About 60% of the movie theaters in the country — though not the major chains — would be in line for several billion dollars in grants if Congress can agree on a coronavirus stimulus package.
Negotiations on a bill were jumpstarted on Tuesday, when a bipartisan group of senators offered a $908 billion plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell circulated his own framework that would provide about $500 billion.
Both proposals include $15 billion for live event venues and movie theaters, aides on both sides of the aisle confirmed to Variety. So while the sides remain apart on several other issues, there is broad agreement about bailing out theaters, restaurants and music venues.
McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on Thursday, as hopes rose that a deal could be achieved.
“Compromise is within reach,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “We know where we agree. We can do this.”
Theaters across the country were ordered to close as the virus spread in the spring. Even as most states lifted their restrictions by the end of the summer, the lack of new films and continuing fears about the virus kept moviegoers away. Almost all independent and midsize theaters have seen revenues drop by at least 70% in 2020, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.
The trade organization has warned that without federal help, most theaters will close permanently or go bankrupt by the spring.
The live events industry — which has been hit even harder — has been advocating for the Save Our Stages bill since the summer. As originally envisioned, the will would have provided $10 billion in grants of up to $12 million apiece to live theater and music venues that have been shuttered during the pandemic.
The movie theater industry — through its trade group, the National Association of Theatre Owners — originally pushed for a much larger bill, the RESTART Act, that would have provided hundreds of billions of dollars to businesses of up to 5,000 employees. That bill never got traction, so NATO joined forces with the live events business to expand the Save Our Stages bill to $15 billion and make movie theaters eligible for the grants.
The bill is limited to companies with 500 employees or fewer, similar to the Paycheck Protection Program. That would exclude all of the larger theater chains, which account for about 40% of the U.S. market.
About 1,580 movie theater operators — representing about 3,500 locations — would be eligible for relief under the bill.
The bill has attracted 56 co-sponsors in the Senate, including 16 Republicans. The House version has 169 co-sponsors.
NATO has also supported Republicans’ proposal to immunize businesses from liability for COVID exposure, which has proved a sticking point in the negotiations with Democrats.