At Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Tuesday, in his annual address to open CinemaCon 2021, John Fithian, president, and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners was cautiously upbeat and simultaneously defiant about the state of the exhibition business. He thanked a long list of organizations for their part in helping movie theatres survive the worst of the COVID-19 crisis and expressed the belief that, while “we have reached the light at the end of a very long tunnel” there is much more work to be done if the cinema business is to thrive. He emphasized what he and everyone who cares about the idea of seeing movies on the big screen believes to be true: “Simultaneous release does not work for anyone. A steady flow of strong movies released with exclusive windows is essential to exhibition’s recovery, and to the profitability of the entire movie ecosystem.”
The National Association of Theatre Owners
It can be difficult to remember just how upbeat people were that first week in April of 2019, the last time the motion picture industry gathered for a CinemaCon. The domestic box office numbers for 2018 had been incredible. Led by the mega-hit Black Panther, a total of 35 films topped the $100 million mark that year and a 36th, Christopher Robin, fell just short. The box office numbers in 2019 were equally strong; 2020 was off to a strong start as well, and then the COVID-19 virus changed everything. Now, after almost two and a half years, the annual convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, is set to begin in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
In a strongly worded statement, the National Association of Theatre Owners defended the practice of exclusive theatrical release windows for exhibitors and used Disney’s latest movie, Black Widow, as its prime example. Here is NATO’s statement in full: “Black Widow’s excellent reviews, positive word of mouth, and strong previews and opening day total ($13.2 million/$39.5 million) led to a surprising 41 percent second day drop, a weaker than expected opening weekend, and a stunning second weekend collapse in theatrical revenues. Why did such a well-made, well-received, highly anticipated movie underperform? Despite assertions that this pandemic-era improvised release strategy was a success for Disney and the simultaneous release model, it demonstrates that an exclusive theatrical release means more revenue for all stakeholders in every cycle of the movie’s life.
The National Association of Theatre Owners, on behalf of six major movie theatre chains, has filed a lawsuit against the state of New Jersey, claiming a First Amendment right to reopen their locations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Calling their treatment by the state "neither fair nor reasonable," they assert that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy's administration has allowed churches, malls, museums and other establishments to reopen without laying out a timetable for the reopening of movie theatres and other entertainment venues.