Americans Split Over Whether Movie Theaters Should Close Amid Coronavirus

General view of atmosphere outside the AMC Empire 25 theater - Getty - H 2020
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About 38 percent of U.S. adults support shuttering theaters amid the outbreak, but 44 percent oppose the idea, a Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult survey finds.

Nearly 70,000 theater screens were shuttered in China in late January in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, with Italy's government following suit on March 8 after the local box office had already seen steep declines. 

But in the U.S., where there are 41,000-plus movie screens, exhibitors appear to be holding out for now by keeping their doors open even as many live events where more than 1,000 people will gather are being postponed. As both federal and state government along with health experts increase awareness for best practices amid the spread of the virus, public opinion may be shifting on what steps to take next as preventative measures. 

About 38 percent of U.S. adults say that they support the idea of the temporary shutdown of movie theaters in the country amid the virus, a new Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult poll finds. The survey — conducted from March 5 to 7 among a nationally representative sample of 2,200 adults — also showed that 44 percent of respondents oppose the idea of closing U.S. theaters. 

Theater stocks for the major chains, like AMC, Imax and Regal owner Cineworld, have been hit hard amid a broader downturn for the market in recent weeks and likely on worries about moviegoers heeding calls to stay home. In the survey, 46 percent of respondents generally support the idea that studios should be "postponing all upcoming movie premieres."

Studios have mostly held firm on release dates for major tentpoles, with a few exceptions: MGM moved the latest James Bond installment, No Time to Die, from April 10 to Nov. 25; STX shifted the comedy My Spy from March 13 to April 17; and Sony moved Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway from April 3 to Aug. 7. Roughly 43 percent of adults surveyed say they agree with the decision to delay the release of No Time to Die

Some 40 percent of respondents in the survey also say theater chains should be held at least “somewhat responsible” for efforts to help prevent the spread of the virus. The National Association of Theatre Owners, the trade group that lobbies for exhibitors, did respond to comment on the poll. NATO initially pledged to move ahead on its annual gathering in Las Vegas, CinemaCon, which was set to run March 30-April 2, but on Wednesday night said that the confab had indeed been canceled.

While movie theaters, as well as Broadway theaters, aim to stay open for now, a slew of high-profile concerts and music festivals — from Coachella to SXSW to Miami's Ultra Music Fest — have been canceled or postponed. About 48 percent of respondents in the survey agreed with the idea that live concerts should be halted temporarily, with 31 percent opposed. And 39 percent say that concert venue operators should be held at least "somewhat responsible" for preventing the spread of the virus. 

Meanwhile, there's new evidence that the emergence of the coronavirus will hasten a shift to streaming entertainment. About 21 percent of respondents in the new THR/Morning Consult survey who said they had subscribed to a streaming service since the beginning of the year cited coronavirus concerns as a reason for the purchase, and 43 percent of respondents say they’d be more likely to watch movies on a streaming service amid calls for social distancing during the outbreak, while 32 percent of U.S. adults surveyed say they would be more likely to rent movies from home now. 

A majority of Americans surveyed, 55 percent, say they currently spend less than $20 in total per month for streaming services like Netflix and HBO Now. About 16 percent say they pay $21 to $30 per month for these services, while 14 percent say they pay between $31 and $50 a month. 

As of Tuesday, there were 118,582 confirmed cases of coronavirus globally, with 959 in the U.S., per Johns Hopkins University's researchers. During a press briefing, Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said: "It’s fair to say that as the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the United States will at some point in time either this year or next be exposed to this virus, and there’s a good chance many will become sick."

March 11, 8 p.m. Updated to reflect CinemaCon has been canceled.