Theater Owners Ask Congress for Emergency Relief Amid Unprecedented Closures

Courtesy of Peter McClintock
The AMC Empire 25 and Regal E-Walk in New York City's Times Square

Virtually all cinemas in the U.S. are dark due to the coronavirus epidemic.

The U.S. movie industry and its 150,000 employees are asking Congress for emergency relief as virtually all cinemas across the U.S. go dark due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures include loan guarantees that ease a liquidity squeeze imposed by fixed costs in the face of non-existent revenues; tax benefits to assist employers with providing support to employees; relieving the burden of costs that are ongoing despite closures; and tax measures that will allow theaters recoup losses when the industry is back up and running.

The business model of the movie theater industry is uniquely vulnerable in the present crisis, the National Association of Theatre Owners said Wednesday in announcing the request.

"As we confront this evolving and unprecedented period, we call on Congress and the Administration to ensure that America’s movie theater industry and its tens of thousands of employees across the country can remain resilient," read the NATO statement.

Additionally, the Executive Board of NATO on Wednesday authorized $1 million drawn from the association’s reserve to aid movie theater employees who are out of work due to movie theater closures stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money will be used as seed funds in an effort to help tide workers over during the crisis. Details of the fund will be released shortly.

For what is believed to be the first time in the history, virtually all movie theaters in the country have shut down. The closures began last weekend in isolated cities and counties — including New York City and Los Angeles, the two biggest moviegoing markets in the country — before widespread shutdowns were announced Monday and Tuesday, led by the three biggest chains, AMC, Regal and Cinemark.

AMC said its locations would remain shuttered for at least six to 12 weeks, upending the spring calendar and potentially upending June's slate.

The 2020 domestic box office is looking at billions in lost revenue.