After weeks of negotiations on a stimulus bill, Congress announced a compromise on a COVID-19 relief bill which, if passed and signed by President Trump, will provide $15 billion in financial support to movie theaters and live event venues. It could be the boost that struggling movie theaters need as many markets remain closed nearly nine months into the coronavirus pandemic, and as industry-shattering decisions push theatrical releases to streaming.
Things aren’t looking great for movie theaters as we near the one-year mark of when businesses across the U.S. we forced to close to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Many theaters and major markets remain closed, studios are delaying theatrical releases or pushing them straight to PVOD, and then there’s the big club to the face that was the recent decision by Warner Bros. to drop all of their 2021 movies on HBO Max the same day as theaters. But things may be looking up for movie theaters, which are due to receive roughly $15 billion in financial support from the federal government, alongside live event venues and cultural institutions, thanks to a new COVID-19 relief bill from Congress.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the COVID-19 relief bill was announced by Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, which will put it on the desk of President Trump to sign. Once signed, the struggling entertainment businesses will get the first federal financial boost since the $2 trillion stimulus package the Senate passed in March, which included a $454 billion loan guarantee fund for businesses struggling from the economic blowback of the pandemic.
At the time, NATO, the National Association of Theater Owners, approved of the stimulus package, stating that with the federal government’s aid, “movie theaters can get through this crisis confident in being able to re-open.” However, attempts to garner more support for theatrical exhibition, such as the RESTART Act (which would have provided more money for theaters) and the Save Our Stages bill, all failed, which only seemed to accelerate the industry’s movement away from theaters and toward streaming. While it seems like the fate of theaters has been written in the cards for the past few years, it is a failing on the federal government that more hasn’t been done to aid the industry and other struggling businesses.
But this $15 billion could be a start. The money is “earmarked specifically for live event venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions,” per THR, and also expands the eligibility of the Paycheck Protection Program to include local TV and radio broadcasters, as well as newspapers. Controversially, the bill also provides direct payments of $600 per person to American families — a far cry from the already measly $1,200 that the first stimulus provided. The new relief bill also does not include a liability protections for businesses, which some in Hollywood were pushing for.
It’s still unclear what movie theaters would qualify as “independent,” and what TV stations would be eligible for paycheck protection. Those details may be released once the final text of the bill is published. The bill itself is still being written, but a vote in Congress is expected today. It still needs to pass both the House and Senate, and be signed into law by Trump.
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