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Amid widespread closures of movie theaters in the U.S., the National Association of Theatre Owners, the exhibition industry’s trade organization, is predicting that customers will return after the coronavirus pandemic has abated.

“No one can precisely predict when public life will return to normal, but it will return,” NATO said Tuesday in a statement.. “The social nature of human beings – the thing that exposes us to contagion, and that makes it so difficult to change behavior in response to pandemic threats – is also the thing that gives us confidence in the future. People will return to movie theaters because that is who people are.”

The statement continued, “In the uncertain, difficult economy ahead, movie theaters will fill the role they always have in boom times and in recessions – the most popular, affordable entertainment available outside the home. While movie theaters will suffer some financial harm in the near term, and many of their 150,000 employees will face personal hardship, when this crisis passes and people return to their hard-wired social nature, movie theaters will be there for them as they have always been, with a full slate of movies far into the future.”

AMC, Regal and Cinemark, the nation’s three biggest theater chains, all announced they would close North American locations, while all movie theaters in many states, including New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Washington, have entirely closed.

“With the pandemic coronavirus outbreak, the world is facing a difficult and trying time,” NATO said. “As the virus takes hold in different regions at different times and in varying degrees of severity, people and public health officials are grappling with decisions about when to close public-facing businesses and when to restrict personal activity. As with other businesses that serve large groups of people, movie theaters have faced voluntary and mandated restrictions and closures. The majority of movie theaters have now closed. This industry will continue to meet its responsibilities to the public and will abide by public health mandates and adapt to local conditions.”

The statement comes after Universal Pictures announced Monday that it will make its movies available on home entertainment on the same day as the films’ global theatrical releases. The initiative will kick off with DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls World Tour,” which is scheduled to debut on April 10 in the U.S.

NATO responded that making movies available day and date on home entertainment platforms is an unsound strategy over the long term.

“Although there has been speculation in the media that the temporary closure of theaters will lead to accelerated or exclusive releases of theatrical titles to home streaming, such speculation ignores the underlying financial logic of studio investment in theatrical titles, the group said.

“To avoid catastrophic losses to the studios, these titles must have the fullest possible theatrical release around the world. While one or two releases may forgo theatrical release, it is our understanding from discussions with distributors that the vast majority of deferred releases will be rescheduled for theatrical release as life returns to normal,” NATO said. “When those titles are rescheduled, they will make for an even fuller slate of offerings than normal as they are slotted into an already robust release schedule later in the year.”

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