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COVID-19

Reopening movie theaters face 2 questions

Jasmine Garsd Aug 20, 2020
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A customer purchases popcorn at a reopened movie theater in Las Vegas last week. Will audiences feel safe enough to return in droves? Ethan Miller/Getty Images
COVID-19

Reopening movie theaters face 2 questions

Jasmine Garsd Aug 20, 2020
Heard on:
A customer purchases popcorn at a reopened movie theater in Las Vegas last week. Will audiences feel safe enough to return in droves? Ethan Miller/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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Movie theaters are reopening in states across the country, which is good news for brands like AMC and Regal, who’ve been hard hit by the pandemic. 

Theaters are promising heightened hygiene, capped capacity and better ventilation. But will audiences go for it? 

Pretty soon, Shannon Faye Gallegos will boldly go where almost no man has gone … for the last five months or so: the movie theater. She lives in Texas, and now that theaters are reopening, she’s ready.

“I have to live. So I need to see what’s in the theater, and I want a big bucket of popcorn,” she said, laughing.

Movie theaters have been suffering. Last quarter, AMC lost over half a billion dollars. 

Now, those big chains are hoping there are more people out there like Gallegos. But that doesn’t solve the other big issue: what to show. 

“If you look at the long term, we will not have content coming out soon because content is completely closed down,” said Arun Sharma, a professor of marketing at the University of Miami. “So we will suddenly have this imbalance of having theaters but no content.”

Many theaters will be showing older titles. The new Russell Crowe movie, “Unhinged,” is widely considered a test case for the reopening. And in September, there’s “Tenet,” a much-awaited sci-fi thriller the industry is pinning its hopes on.

Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, a media analytics company, said what cinemas are showing will only be part of the appeal.

“It’s not gonna be about how good is the movie?” he said. “It’s going to be more about, are there protocols for health and safety in place?”

“In this time it just seems like an unnecessary risk,” said Brianna Stimpson in New Jersey. She said watching a movie is one of the easiest things to recreate at home. “It’s not a bar, it’s not a concert. It’s just sitting there and watching a movie.”

Like many, she’s ready to dip her hand in a popcorn bag … but, in the safety of her home.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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