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When New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced Aug. 3 that proof of vaccination against COVID-19 will be required for indoor activities — including movie theaters — cinema owners remained silent.
Behind the scenes, the National Association of Theatre Owners began consulting with its members. An alarming surge in cases in many parts of the country due to the delta variant has left the box office recovery disrupted as half the U.S. population remain unvaccinated.
NATO has decided not to take a position either way on the looming New York City ordinance, and won’t object. Nor is it trying to block the proposed L.A. rule.
“In order for the exhibition industry to fully recover, we need more people to be vaccinated. It’s pure science. The rates of shots had went quite well for a while in the U.S. and then they dropped off. We need them to keep going,” National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“Don’t get me wrong. There are going to be some lost ticket sales in the short term,” Fithian continues. “Working through how we implement it and how we deal with the economics are challenges, but we’re not going to oppose it, because people need to get vaccinated.”
That will result in more consumers feeling comfortable about going out and returning to cinemas, he says.
NYC’s program begins rolling out in mid-August before officially taking effect Sept. 13. The Los Angeles City Council said it would consider a similar ordinance.
Moviegoing comfort levels have dropped dramatically in recent weeks in the U.S. as delta variant cases increase, according to the National Research Group. The comfort level was at a pandemic-era best 81 percent on July 11; as of Monday, it was 67 percent. The impact is being felt at the box office.
This past weekend, Warner Bros.’ DC tentpole The Suicide Squad came in behind expectations — which weren’t high in the first place — with an estimated domestic opening of $26.5 million. A month ago, the recovery at the box office was far enough along for Disney and Marvel’s Black Widow to open to $80 million domestically.
NATO represents hundreds of theater companies, including all of the major chains.
In the meantime, NATO is working with NYC city officials in trying to figure out exactly what the new rule will mean, including exemptions, such as kids under 12, who are not yet allowed to receive a COVID-19 immunization. De Blasio indicated last week those youngsters will be.
“We’re not going to exclude those under 12,” de Blasio said last week. “We want them to be safe, we want them to be careful. The whole purpose of doing this is to give people the ultimate incentive to get vaccinated if they’re eligible.”
“That’s good news,” says Fithian. “But there are other issues. If you’ve had COVID recently, and you’re therefore immune for now, does that qualify? There are a bunch of implementation questions. We want to make sure that it’s executed fairly.”
Several Hollywood studio executives told THR they likewise believe proof of vaccine requirements are a positive step. “I personally would feel better about going to the movies myself,” says one exec.
Los Angeles and New York City are the country’s two largest box office markets.
France in recent weeks became the first country to implement a vaccine rule for indoor venues. Cinema ticket sales have fallen sharply. However, the vaccination rate is climbing (there also have been general protests against the mandate).
“It never should have been the case that getting immunized against a contagious disease is a political statement, but it did, both in this country and around the world,” Fithian says.
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