Thursday, December 9, 2021

Evers sends stimulus aid to Wisconsin movie theatres, and the cinemas need the help

As 2021 closes up, it’s worth noting that Wisconsin still has plenty of COVID relief funds left to be used, and that there is still COVID-related economic damage in some sectors. That was borne out with Governor Evers’ announcement of a new round of aid in an industry that is still well below their pre-COVID levels of business.
Gov. Tony Evers today announced more than $14 million in grants were awarded to movie theaters, summer camps, and minor league sports teams throughout the state. Today’s grant awards are a part of the governor’s more than $140 million investment to support the recovery of Wisconsin’s tourism and entertainment industries from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. ….

The Movie Theater Assistance Grant Program is a more than $10 million program that provides approximately $15,000 per screen to 49 theater companies. This is the second pandemic relief program to assist the movie theater industry in Wisconsin, bringing the total investment in Wisconsin’s movie theaters to $20 million.
Movie theaters throughout the state were closed for much of 2020, and even after vaccinations and mask policies have been put in place in 2021, many have yet to watch films in any place other than homes.

You take a look at national box office figures for movies (courtesy of the Box Office Mojo website) and you can see that despite good growth since all ages were able to be vaccinated in May 2021, we are still well below the ticket revenues that existed before the pandemic.

Those numbers certainly warrant additional help, even though we’re 21 months into COVID being a thing in America. We don’t want to see more of these businesses and buildings be shuttered again, and have the property values fall off of the tax rolls. Hopefully by this time next Summer, the pandemic has largely faded away with all ages able to be vaccinated, and a lot of the barriers to going out to the movies have disappeared.

However, you have to wonder about whether the concept of “going out to the movies” is going to be less in a post-COVID world. Some of this will be due to the availability of streaming, improved televisions and other platforms to enjoy movies, but it may also be because some may decide they don’t need to see movies in theatres in general (some might figure “we got through 2 years without it, and it wasn’t so bad”).

Which makes me wonder what box office figures will look like in 2022, and whether some of the theatres getting help throughout the state won’t be heading out of business even with the subsidies in 2021. If COVID has gone away but fewer people are still coming in, would those businesses even be worth bailing out at that point?

It’s a topic for another time, because the $10 million+ to theatre operators keeps a lot of these business afloat in the near term, and gives us time to see how the post-COVID movie business might operate. But do we reach a point where we risk losing access to a vital form of entertainment in many communities across Wisconsin? Films as art and having community outlets like theatres to show that art matters, and is having that possibly be less available for Wisconsinites something we should allow to happen?

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