While New York remains seemingly in control of its public health crisis, its Governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced this week that movie theaters were among a number of businesses that would not be allowed to reopen on the originally planned schedule. In addition to theaters, gyms, casinos, amusement parks and skin care services throughout the state will be required to remain shuttered. On the opposite coast, meanwhile, Hollywood’s must-have markets in California are struggling under the weight of surges that are concerning the public and officials, casting doubt on that state’s plans and allowances for various businesses to openly operate.
With both Mulan and Tenet only about four weeks away, industry watchers are beginning to doubt that enough cinemas will be open to warrant bringing such costly major titles to market. Jeff Bock, an analyst at Exhibitor Relations, say, “We’re four weeks out from Mulan, and there needs to be advertising. Not having New York, possibly not having Los Angeles or San Francisco, and Florida surging in infections again are all bad news.”
He continued, saying, “Unless things taper off over the next two weeks, I can’t see Disney having a choice but to movie again,” indicating his expectation that Disney would likely push the release date for Mulan, although others have privately speculated that the mouse house would roll the title over to its streamer, Disney+. CNBC, Thursday morning, piled-on to the idea that Disney is growing closer to announcing a major change to Mulan. Casting further doubt on summer launches, as we reported yesterday, a new study indicates that nearly half of Americans plan to avoid theaters when they reopen out of caution.
While studios and theater owners have been optimistic and proceeding under the belief that cinemas will reopen nearly all locations in the next several weeks, recent testing numbers are alarming. Major chains including AMC, Regal and Cinemark all released their reopening plans in recent weeks, which included the requirement that moviegoers wear masks.
Concession limitations, plexiglass partitions at service counters and more frequent and regimented cleaning and sanitation were also included in the roadmaps for the major chains to reopen. In reality, no one really knows the likely risk for transmission of disease in theaters where people are indoors and in close proximity for long periods of time. While all major chains have included in their plans seating that will distance moviegoers from one another, there has also been question about ventilation and its role in spreading the disease.
Cuomo said that more information is needed about transmission indoors and it is unclear when or if he will reach the conclusion that theaters are safe to reopen. “We are continuing to study malls, movie theaters and gyms,” he said during his press briefing Wednesday. “We’re looking at what happened in other states. There are some reports that malls, bars, certain social clubs with air conditioning – that air conditioning may not cleanse the air of the virus and just recirculating the virus. As soon as we get some more information we will make an informed decision.”
Paramount earlier this week announced their own release change, bumping its Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run from an August theatrical release to a streaming exclusive release on CBS All Access in 2021, perhaps indicating its own doubt that families will be ready to turn-out amidst the health crisis.
In recent weeks, the Chinese government again delayed their plans to reopen theaters in Beijing citing a new outbreak in the capital and they have not indicated when they will be allowed to reopen anywhere in the country. As the second largest theatrical market, globally, China is incredibly important to Hollywood and its profitability. China, as might be expected, is also very important for Mulan, so even if infections drop dramatically throughout the U.S., allowing theaters here to open, not being able to simultaneously release in China could still hamper the likely financial success of the Disney title and may cause the company to rethink its release strategy.
Industry eyes are falling especially to Disney, since the company not only relies on box office performance, but also hotels, amusement parks and cruise lines for its financial performance, all industries that have been hit hard by the health crisis. Disney decided yesterday to call off its planned July 17 reopening of Disneyland and, has yet to announce another planned date. Despite this move, the company is, at least as of this date, planning to host the return of NBA’s basketball season in a ‘bubble’ created to allow select teams and their families to reside in Orlando while the chosen teams complete the season. Despite this plan, though, over 17,000 Orlando area Disney employees have petitioned the company to not open its Florida park, citing risks to employees, their families and Disney guests. With the Disneyland date now moved, it’s not a stretch to believe that the company’s Florida parks may also shift their plans.
With so much doubt, generally, around travel and leisure and the willingness of the public – especially families – to emerge and spend, Hollywood faces an uncertain remainder of the year. If the studios stick to their late July launch dates, major marketing moves needing to be made to support theatrical releases. It’s a fair bet that studios and theaters are working furiously behind the scenes to scour data and understand local restrictions and policies, watch infection numbers and plot a course. This news comes to us courtesy of The Wrap.