Can Government Aid Save Movie Theaters?

Regal cinema
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The U.S. Congress has approved a massive covid-19 relief bill that includes aid for struggling movie theaters and Broadway venues.

Now that the $2.3 trillion bill has been passed by the Senate, it will be sent to President Trump to be signed.

The long-awaited government bill “means that the vast majority of small and mid-size U.S. movie theaters and their employees will have the resources to make it through to the end of that tunnel,” says John Fithian, the president of the National Association of Theaters Owners.

He continued: “We urge its immediate implementation.”

Movie theaters are still required to remain closed in large markets such as Los Angeles and New York, where coronavirus cases have been surging since Thanksgiving.

As a result, many studios have postponed release dates or shuffled content onto online platforms – so even in places where theaters can remain open, there’s not many new titles to draw crowds.

Creative programs like AMC’s plan to rent out entire auditoriums for $99 can only go so far.

And as much as impassioned film fans want to save movie theaters, they’re understandably concerned about contracting the virus in enclosed spaces.

The future of movie theaters

Many in the film industry worry that it’s already too late to save movie theaters. Months of staying closed may have created a financial hole they’ll never be able to climb out of.

But the new spending bill does at least address many concerns of those in the entertainment industry.

$15 billion f the aid has been specifically earmarked for movie theaters and live performance venues.

The “Save our Stages” section of the bill is meant to help small- and medium-sized theaters and venues with 500 employees or less, and those that lost at least 25% in revenue during the pandemic.

AMC, Regal, and Cinemark, which account for 57% of theater sales in the US, do not qualify for the aid. Companies that are publicly traded, foreign-owned, have more 500 full-time employees, or operate in more than ten states, are not eligible.

Recipients of the aid include smaller-scale venue operators, promoters, producers, performing arts organizations, museum operators and talent representatives. 

Since AMC has been rumored to be close to bankruptcy, it’ll be interested to see if the company can weather the pandemic without additional financial relief.

Another provision of the bill makes it a felony to operate an illegal streaming service.

And finally, the covid relief bill also expands unemployment eligibility for workers who earn their income from a mix of traditional and freelance work.

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