Exhibitors, distributors, and box office prognosticators can start to breathe a sigh relief as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo today gave the green-light for the re-opening of New York City theaters.
Starting March 5th, citywide cinemas can re-open at a reduced capacity, and will follow the same guidelines that theaters across the rest of the state have already followed since their opening in October. Unlike bigger entertainment venues, like Madison Square Garden, which are also re-opening in the coming week, COVID testing will not be required for entry. All cinemas, however, will be operating at 25% of their maximum capacity, with only 50 people allowed per screen. Masks, social distancing, and other health protocols will also be enforced.
Theaters will also have to ensure proper ventilation is in place. Many theater companies, including the three largest theater chains AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas, and Cinemark Theatres, are already participating in a program developed by the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), called CinemaSafe. The program ensures theaters re-open with proper operating guidelines, according to health experts and the Centers for Disease Control. Along with mask wearing and social distancing, the guidelines include increased ventilation, employee health training, enhanced cleaning, mobile ticketing, and contactless concessions.
Many New York City regional theater companies have joined the bigger chains in the CinemaSafe program. These companies include Angelika Film Center & Café, Bow Tie Cinemas, Cinema Village Cinemart, City Cinemas, Film Forum, IFC Center, Landmark Theatres, and more. To see a full list of participating movie theater companies, and to learn more about the program and its guidelines, please check the CinemaSafe website.
It's been nearly a year since the two largest markets, New York and Los Angeles, have closed their doors due to the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the theatrical release calendar was thrown into a tailspin as studios were forced to move their biggest titles and tentpoles to later dates – not only to points when life will be a little safer, but also to dates when studios expected N.Y. and L.A. theaters will be back open to the public.
Exhibitors have also been facing tough times through the closures. Regal Cinemas was forced to temporarily close a majority of their locations, while AMC Theaters was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.
The reopening of New York theaters was lauded by NATO. "New York City is a major market for moviegoing in the U.S.," the group said in a statement. "Reopening there gives confidence to film distributors in setting and holding their theatrical release dates, and is an important step in the recovery of the entire industry."