ALBANY — The nation’s second-largest movie theater chain said Monday it will suspend its U.S. operations Thursday, due in part to New York state’s continued refusal to let theaters reopen.
New York City and Los Angeles are the top U.S. markets for movie theater ticket sales. With theaters in both places on lockdown, studios won’t commit the marketing dollars for big films and won’t release the big films without marketing.
Because of this, Regal will temporarily shut down operations at its 536 U.S. locations.
Those in New York — including Clifton Park, Colonie, Guilderland, Queensbury and Rensselaer — were ordered shut down in mid-March to prevent spread of COVID-19. Movie theaters are one of the few mass-gathering places still not permitted to reopen in New York, even at reduced capacity.
“The industry is completely dead because Gov. Cuomo is not willing to budge,” said Joe Masher, president of the National Association of Theater Owners of New York state.
Masher is also chief operating officer of Bow Tie Cinemas, a Connecticut-based chain that operates theaters in Saratoga Springs, Schenectady and Wilton.
Bow Tie is using the CinemaSafe sanitary protocol widely adopted in the industry, Masher said. Bow Tie gave a delegation of state officials a tour of the Schenectady theater on Sept. 18 to demonstrate the sanitary features and provisions in place, and to advocate for permission to reopen, but never got a response, he said.
There is a framework at least for reopening theaters in the future in Los Angeles, Masher said, but no hints when New York might reopen, or under what circumstances.
The motion picture industry has been streaming some new releases but saving potential blockbusters such as “No Time to Die” — the latest James Bock film — for theaters.
“A robust theatrical release is still the best economic model,” Masher said. “United Artists won’t market (the) new Bond movie without the New York market. The detriment that this has caused statewide and worldwide is appalling.”
Almost all of Bow Tie’s theaters are closed, even in states that have allowed them them to reopen, because of the limited number of new releases.
COVID is a serious disease requiring preventive measures, he said, but two things grate in this situation: Theaters are operating to some degree in 48 states with no infections attributed to their patrons, he said, and New York state is at a lull.
New Yorkers have been testing positive at a rate higher than 1 percent in recent days after a long stretch below 1 percent. Several hot spots in the downstate area have driven up the rate for the rest of the state, but resurgent infection rates in other states and nations do not bode well for New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Monday.
“As we’re going into the fall I believe it’s going to be unsustainable,” he said. “New York state is not hermetically sealed.”
Schenectady County reported its 49th resident death from COVID on Monday.
The Capital Region movie theater market is dominated by chains — Regal, Bow Tie and the small upstate New York operation Zurich Cinema, which has a theater in ViaPort Rotterdam.
There also are a number of independents sprinkled around the area, including Scotia Cinema.
Its owner since 1981, Rich Adams, said he’s never seen anything like this and never dreamed he would.
Under his watch, the Mohawk Avenue theater with its lower ticket prices and small-town vibe has endured recessions, the arrival of VCRs and then DVD players in many living rooms, the expansion of cable television programming and the advent of streaming with an increase in Internet speed.
The death of the movie theater industry has been forecast repeatedly over the four decades, but this time it seems a greater threat, Adams said, as more and more people grow accustomed to streaming in their homes as an alternative to going out for a film.
“We really thought we were going to open back in July,” he said. “It’s more and more depressing as the weeks go on. Theaters have been shown to be very safe throughout the country and throughout the world. We’re kind of the holdout.”
One by one, restaurants, malls, gyms, casinos and bowling alleys have come off New York’s lockdown list and been allowed to reopen. Movie theaters are less intense sources of potential infection than any of these other places, Adams said — with people sitting still and not talking to each other.
Scotia Cinema has been selling popcorn to get through the shutdown. It’s a sentimental touch — it doesn’t yield any profit but it keeps the place in customers’ minds.
“At least it’s getting some people in our doors,” Adams said. “But we’re not really making money on it.
“Maybe we can get a good Christmas season in.”
In a statement Monday announcing the shutdown decision, Regal said roughly 40,000 U.S. employees would be affected, as well as others abroad.
Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Regal parent company Cineworld, said:
“Despite our work, positive feedback from our customers and the fact that there has been no evidence to date linking any COVID cases with cinemas, we have not been given a route to reopen in New York, although other indoor activities — like indoor dining, bowling and casinos — were already allowed. The prolonged closures have had a detrimental impact on the release slate for the rest of the year, and, in turn, our ability to supply our customers with the lineup of blockbusters they’ve come to expect from us. As such, it is simply impossible to continue operations in our primary markets.”
After the announcement, Cineworld Group’s stock dropped 36 percent Monday in trading on the London Stock Exchange. It is down 89 percent so far in 2020.
Stock in AMC Entertainment Holdings — the only movie theater operator with more screens in the United States than Regal — dropped 11 percent Monday and is down 42 percent so far this year. AMC said last week it would have more than 80 percent of its U.S. theaters open by the end of this week.
AMC has 21 theaters in New York, none near the Capital Region.