Today is Monday, and normally on Mondays, we can expect the final box office totals to come in, giving us a look at how well the theater business did over the weekend. However, given the complete closure of cinemas around the US, due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), those numbers aren’t coming. And we’re likely not going to get box office numbers for weeks. This is something that is very concerning for the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) and its leader John Fithian.
Speaking to Variety, the NATO leader didn’t talk about the closure of cinemas as a stumbling point for theaters. He feels this is an existential crisis.
“The situation is that dire,” Fithian said. “Overnight, we went from an industry that makes $15 billion a year — $11 billion in ticket sales and $4 billion in concessions — to one that is not going to make a penny for three or four months.”
In fact, Fithian says that if the stimulus package that is being discussed in Washington, DC doesn’t pass, NATO foresees a time when the whole theater business can go bankrupt.
“Most of these theaters, not all of them, but most of them, will go bankrupt if this does not pass,” said Fithian. “If this goes through, it will provide a whole lot of help to industries that need it like restaurants and bars and bowling alleys and retailers.”
In another interview (via THR), the NATO boss discussed the other side of the business—the studios—and how they’ve been releasing films via VOD, in light of theaters being shut down. While he understands why studios that have films in theaters are going to VOD early, there’s one instance that really bugs him. One situation that he feels will not be forgotten when the dust settles— “Trolls World Tour.”
As you probably know, Universal is the only studio to decide to move ahead with the release of a major blockbuster film, ‘Trolls 2,’ when the theaters are closed. The studio is planning a day-and-date release “in theaters” and on VOD next month. Of course, when theaters are closed, it amounts to a straight-to-VOD release for a film that many cinemas were banking on.
“Only Universal, and only on ‘Trolls,’ did one studio skip the theatrical model and go straight to the home,” Fithian said. “Universal continues to advertise to consumers that ‘Trolls’ will be released simultaneously to theaters and the home on April 10. And they are lying to consumers.”
He continued, “Universal knows that theaters will still be closed on April 10, so unlike every other distributor who must simply delay their releases in that time period, but still understand that theatrical release is essential to their business model, Universal on Trolls didn’t make that decision. Exhibitors will not forget this.”
We’ll have to see what those ominous words amount to when the industry reopens and we can attempt to get back to business as usual. But until then, theaters can’t be too worried about Universal when they’re more concerned with keeping the lights on.