The movie theater industry is ‘not going away’

The future of the movie theater industry may seem bleak in the U.S., as audiences are slow to return to cinemas and blockbuster features get postponed into 2021, but director Ron Howard doesn’t think this 100-year-old business is going away.

“I just don’t believe that the theatrical experience is going away entirely,” Howard said on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” Thursday. “We’re seeing it in Europe and Asia. People want to get back out to the movies. You know, it’s still serving a tremendous function.”

The majority of theater chains, big and small, have sustained massive losses in the last six months as the pandemic forced theaters to close and prompted studios to reschedule movie releases. With the number of Covid-19 cases still rising, many Americans are still avoiding public indoor spaces.

In 2019, the domestic box office reported $11.4 billion in ticket sales, the second-highest haul in industry history. So far in 2020, the U.S. and Canada have only tallied $2.05 billion. At the same point last year, the domestic box office had generated more than $8.4 billion in sales. That’s more than a 75% drop.

While more than half of movie theaters in the U.S. have reopened, Hollywood continues to delay major releases and audiences are not showing signs of being comfortable returning until there is a vaccine. 

The National Association of Theater Owners warned that if this continues, 69% of small- and mid-sized theaters could be forced to file for bankruptcy or close permanently. This would result in 66% of all theater jobs being lost.

On Wednesday, dozens of filmmakers joined NATO, the Directors Guild of America and the Motion Picture Association to urge Congress to provide assistance to struggling theater owners that have been impacted by Covid-19.

“As Covid continues in the country, it was important for theater owners, the [directors guild] and producers guild to make this request,” Howard said.

Howard was joined on “Squawk Alley” Thursday by producer Brian Glazer. The pair shared details about Imagine Impact, an offshoot of their production company Imagine Entertainment that seeks to better source new talent in the entertainment industry. Imagine Impact recently closed its Series A financing round.

Howard and Glazer both agreed that streaming was gaining steam even before the pandemic, but has become more popular as people have been forced to stay home.

“Streaming is here to stay,” Glazer said. “It is the center of the life force of storytelling right now.”

Still neither filmmaker sees the pandemic as being the death knell for cinemas. 

“Formats are changing, there’s no question about it, audience interests are changing and Covid is accelerating that to some extent,” Howard said of audiences shifting more heavily towards streaming during the pandemic. “But, you know, that is an important aspect of the industry still and it’s not going away, it’s not only currently significant, but it has real economic impact.”

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