NATO Members Discuss Path Forward for Exhibition Industry During Annual Meetings

BY NATO STAFF

NATO’s Annual Meetings are usually held in Los Angeles every fall. This year, those meetings were all held virtually. 

While a lack of in-person interaction with members left a void, we still received a lot of great feedback on how NATO should move forward during these difficult times.

Here is a summary of the meetings that were held:

Executive Board Meeting

Following the Advisory Board meeting, the Executive Board met in closed session to provide direction regarding NATO’s priorities, to consider recommendations presented by NATO committees, and to review NATO financial reports.

The Executive Board discussed strategic initiatives currently under way at NATO, including efforts to help member companies survive the Covid-19 pandemic—the state/local government relations grants program, lobbying support for relief legislation, an industry public relations campaign promoting “CinemaSafe,” and the dues hiatus for fiscal year 2020–2021.

In keeping with its fiduciary responsibility to the organization, the Executive Board periodically reviews NATO financials in detail. At the October 7 meeting, reports were presented by NATO treasurer Joe Masher, Investment Committee chairman Dan Harkins, and Audit Committee chairman David Wright.

A Nominations Committee report, delivered by outgoing NATO secretary Jeff Logan, recommended the following slate of NATO officers for the 2020–2022 term:

  • Chairman: Rolando Rodriguez, Marcus Theatres Corp.
  • Vice Chairman: Bob Bagby, B&B Theatres
  • Secretary: John Vincent, Wellfleet Cinemas
  • Treasurer: Joe Masher, Bow Tie Cinemas

An election was held, and the slate was elected as presented. The Executive Board members expressed their gratitude to outgoing officers, chairman Ellis Jacob and secretary Jeff Logan, for their leadership and service.

Global Cinema Federation / International Committee Meeting

The Global Cinema Federation and NATO International Committee held a joint meeting on Tuesday, October 6. Exhibitors from around the world gathered virtually to hear from guests from the Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Français (FNCF), Federación de Cines de España (FECE), Hauptverband Deutscher Filmtheater Kino (HDF), and the U.K. Cinema Association, who reported on some success stories regarding box office and back-to-cinema campaigns in their respective territories. Several studies regarding the safety of cinemas were highlighted during the meeting, and NATO representatives discussed CinemaSafe. A review of the upcoming film release schedule was a reminder to all that exhibitors worldwide are being affected by the struggle to defeat Covid-19 in the United States. Despite many territories around the world having reopened cinemas safely months ago, they too are lacking new, exciting content from major Hollywood studios, which is hurting their businesses as well. On October 14, the Global Cinema Federation sent a letter to New York’s Governor Cuomo, urging him to reopen cinemas in his state for the sake of exhibitors worldwide.

Strategic Planning Committee

Members of the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) used their time together to discuss several important topics related to NATO’s work in the months and years to come. 

As the industry looks to rebound from the pandemic, the SPC will advise on the timing of any media campaigns designed to reinvigorate moviegoing and the resources that will be devoted to those campaigns. Continuing to work with the creative community on those campaigns will be essential.

The SPC discussed the potential of live sports in movie theaters to offset the volatility of the release calendar. NATO staff members are in the process of connecting to the major sports leagues.

The SPC is also developing ways to improve diversity and inclusion within NATO’s committee structure.

Membership Committee

NATO’s Membership Committee, consisting of volunteer members representing a multitude of member categories, met on Thursday, October 1. Jeff Logan (Logan Luxury Theatres, Mitchell, S.D.) chaired his final meeting of the committee, as John Vincent (Wellfleet Cinemas, South Wellfleet, Mass.) assumes the chair position following his recent election as NATO secretary on the Executive Board. Also new to the committee is Gurbani Marwah (Cineplex Entertainment), a leader on NATO’s Young Members Committee, who represents the Canadian member category. In addition to the traditional governance issues (Advisory Board roster and emeritus member approval), the committee agenda consisted of the current NATO member dues hiatus, existing member benefit programs, regional association activities, and potential educational webinar topics.

Diversity & Inclusion Meeting

NATO’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee met virtually via Zoom webinar. During the meeting, the committee thanked their inaugural chair, Moctesuma Esparza, CEO of Maya Cinemas, for his dedication and leadership during the D&I committee’s first two years of activity. The committee also welcomed the new chair of the committee, Racheal Wilson, COO of Harkins Theatres. Racheal led the meeting as various NATO staff discussed previous accomplishments of the D&I Committee, including the NATO scholarship program, the elections toolkit, the D&I case study white paper, the Greenlight Committee meetings, and NATO committee benchmarking. Meeting attendees were surveyed about their companies’ D&I efforts during the pandemic. It was inspiring to see that a majority of companies remained committed to D&I efforts during the pandemic. Attendees offered plenty of ideas for future D&I Committee projects, which NATO staff are looking forward to exploring further.

Codes Committee

The Codes Committee met via Zoom webinar on October 5, 2020. The meeting was well attended and supported by our committee chair Don Harton. Gene Boecker, NATO’s codes consultant, discussed relevant codes issues, and Randy Smith, NATO’s legal consultant covered relevant ADA issues for the committee.

Gene Boecker covered issues associated with the International Code Council (ICC), NFPA Life Safety Code (101) and Building Code (5000), ICC/ANSI A117.1, as well as issues related to adult changing table requirements. Boecker noted that the 2021 ICC was in the process of being published and that the NFPA 2021 codes are available and he will prepare updates associated with same soon. However, he noted again that few jurisdictions are ready to adopt them at this time. As far as ANSI, the code has no updates, but the group is working on the scoping appendix to make it code. Finally, Boecker addressed the issues associated with existing and proposed state laws concerning adult changing stations, which are currently required in certain facilities in California and Arizona. Boecker noted that ANSI is also looking at the issue, which could create enhanced requirements, such as those in the U.K. and Australia, beyond those currently existing in the U.S. Boecker’s team will continue to monitor the issue.

Randy Smith provided an update on how the industry’s efforts to modify theater operations to comply with federal, state, and local guidelines/mandates could create ADA issues for operators. He covered the duty to provide reasonable accommodations during the pandemic and how such efforts must be reflected in operator’s policies and protocols. The key areas of compliance discussed included ensuring effective communication, appropriate parking options, compliant points of entry/egress, the impact of mandatory mask policies, public symptom screening, impact of floor markings and other signage on individual’s with visual impairments, queue line issues for individuals with mobility impairments, maintaining physical distancing, and impact of reduced seating capacity. Finally, Smith provided some basic deescalation protocols that members could consider in the event they find themselves having to deal with an aggressive guest objecting to newly introduced safety protocols.

The committee will continue to monitor code and ADA issues and provide updates as necessary.

Technology Committee

Over 200 joined the open Technology Committee meeting on Monday October 5, 2020. It is clear that technology remains important but has taken a change of direction as theaters prepare to reopen, and there is a need to extend the life of existing equipment rather than invest in new technology.

There is interest in the Digital Cinema Picture Level (DCPL) Project, but it will hibernate until we are up and running as an industry.

Work has continued in the standardization bodies including those working on immersive audio. The SMPTE standard for immersive audio has been published and we expect new movies will change the name of their audio file from “Atmos” to “IAB.” Those that have Dolby Atmos systems will be able to play the newly named files. Those that have upgraded their immersive systems (DTS/Barco and others) will be able to play the new files (and, in fact, the files named “Atmos” as well).

We held a lively discussion on the upcoming Direct View (LED) requirements that are being discussed at DCI (the studio committee—Digital Cinema Initiatives—that set the original standards for the rollout of digital cinema). NATO hopes that the industry recognizes that new equipment and change of standards is a long-term issue and not a short-term requirement.

NATO will continue to engage with DCI to share our common views and industry reality.

Independent Theatre Owners Committee

The NATO Independent Theatre Owners Committee (ITOC), composed of companies operating fewer than 75 screens, met on Tuesday, October 6, led by chair Scott Lotter (Paradise Cinemas, Chico, Calif.) and vice chairwoman Colleen Barstow (Main Street Theatres, Omaha, Neb.). The independent member category represents the largest group of member companies with over 720 companies in the United States, which includes 75 nonprofit cinema organizations. NATO’s lobbying efforts receive a substantial amount of support from the independent members, both at the state and federal level. The meeting agenda covered several key topics confronting smaller cinema companies during the pandemic, including ancillary cash flow, staff rehiring, and cutting expenses. Many smaller exhibitors also face the reality of possible bankruptcy due to state/local closures and a lack of film product. Like many other small businesses across the country, the pandemic has greatly affected these members. The four elected members of the NATO Executive Board from the independent category also joined the ITOC leadership to share an update on the association’s deliberations over the past months.

Regional Associations Meeting

NATO regional association leaders came together to discuss reopening updates and priority issues. These priorities included reopening follow-up issues, emerging issues for the 2021 legislative session, regional legislative grants, and the top priority, helping to obtain state-by-state grants for exhibitors. 

The NATO regionals will continue to have bi-weekly calls in order to share current experiences and coordinate messaging on the various issues being addressed nationwide.

Young Members Committee

Leaders of the Young Members Committee met to discuss the status of the industry. The overwhelming consensus of the meeting was, no matter how safe cinemas are, the industry will continue to suffer until there is a more reliable stream of new, wide releases from major studios. In the meantime, repertory content such as classic holiday films and alternative content like, hopefully, professional sports games will be key. Erin Von Hoetzendorff was assigned as the new NATO staff lead for the Young Members Committee. If you are interested in learning more about this committee, please reach out to her at evh@natoca.com. All NATO members younger than 40 are eligible to join.

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