Editorial – AMC Avoiding Masks Will Kill Theaters

AMC Theaters unveiled its plan today to reopen theaters in the United States, a hopeful sign for cinema buffs. In the same article announcing the move at Variety, AMC CEO and president Adam Aron said AMC will not force customers to wear masks. This is a mistake.


Aron explained the protocols the company is enabling to ensure the health and safety of its customers and staff, including reducing its seating capacity in order to help people social distance, implementing new cleaning procedures, locating hand-sanitizing stations throughout its theaters and encouraging contact-less and cash-free concessions.


All of that is great. What’s not great is the decision to not mandate wearing a mask. Aron stated that the decision was to avoid politics. “We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” Aron said. “We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary. We think that the vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks. When I go to an AMC feature, I will certainly be wearing a mask and leading by example.”


His example isn’t enough. Large crowds have been shown to be particularly susceptible to transmission of the deadly Coronavirus. Any event involving large crowds around the world, in particular sporting events and live concerts, will not see fans return to the stands in any meaningful way this year.


Despite this sober reality, movie theaters are trying to press ahead and it’s completely understandable that they do so. The economics of theatrical distribution are markedly different than say professional sports, and AMC itself is facing bankruptcy if something doesn’t change in a hurry.



A recent survey showed that 70% of respondents to a new consumer survey said they would rather see a first-run feature as a digital rental at home than in a movie theater, thanks to the ongoing Coronavirus global pandemic. Given that fact – and all the troubling information included in the survey for theaters – and the desperate need for AMC to reestablish its revenue stream, you’d think the company would do everything in its power to ensure customers feel safe in its theaters.


This isn’t a political debate. Yes, the country is reopening. Cases are on the rise. Yes, masks are inconvenient. Wearing them is highly effective in curbing the spread of the virus. Placing the health and safety of customers in the context of a political debate isn’t something AMC did when it banned face masks (the Halloween kind) and fake guns in response to the horrific Aurora, Colorado shooting in 2012.


Why is this political?



This graph shows AMC’s dilemma. It’s not an either/or proposition. Theaters can open and be safe at the same time. AMC requires customers to wear a shirt and shoes for sanitary reasons. Is that a political debate? Does AMC want to give people a respite during a national crisis? Does it want to stay in business?


Both the survey and common sense show that families and individuals both will not risk catching or transmitting the virus to go see a movie when faced with an overwhelming array of streaming options at home. AMC, Regal, Cinemark, none of the major theater chains can afford to be closed.


They also can’t afford to place their customers at risk.