Executives at Warner Bros and Universal are not interested in buying theaters

Hollywood appears to have no plans to save the movie theater business, even though it was given the green light earlier this year for its own theaters in the United States after a long, 72-year ban.

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Donna Langley, president of Universal's motion picture entertainment group, and Ann Sarnoff, president and CEO of Warner Bros, this week settled any speculation that their respective studios were interested in buying theaters.

"We have no plans to do that currently," said Langley, who appeared with Sarnoff on a virtual panel at the Milken Institute Global Conference on the impact of COVID-19 in Hollywood. "We also have no plans," Sarnoff said with a smile.

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The question arises as cinema chains struggle to stay alive. AMC, the largest chain in the United States, said this week that it expects to run out of cash by the end of the year or early 2021.

Even die-hard moviegoers have little incentive to go to the movies these days because Hollywood has delayed its big releases until 2021 and has been sending its lower-budget movies directly to VOD services.

Disney delayed Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson, from November 6 to May 2021. It also decided to move Soul, a Pixar movie that was opening in theaters on November 20, to its streaming service, Disney + for the day. of Christmas.

Warner Bros. recently delayed The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson, from October 1, 2021 to March 4, 2022, while Universal delayed the upcoming James Bond film, No Time to Die, to April 2, 2021.

With such a shortage of big-budget movies to release this year, Cineworld, which is operated by Regal, America's second-largest movie theater, recently canceled its activity and closed all its theaters in the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland for the second time. since March.

Eric Wold, a media analyst at B. Riley, called this year's film industry "the perfect storm" and said he expects the US box office to drop 80 percent in 2020, worse than his previous prediction of a drop. 70 percent. He also expects 2021 box office sales to drop 30 percent from 2019.

In August, the United States Department of Justice paved the way for studios to revert to theater ownership when it removed the rules that had severely limited Hollywood to owning cinemas since 1948. That, coupled with recent financial troubles at major cinema chains, has generated speculation that they could soon try to take control of the giant screens they use to show their work.

But the major media companies are busy building their own streaming services and dealing with their own economic fallout from the pandemic. Still, the idea is not implausible. Disney already owns the El Capitan Hollywood theater, while Reed Hastings' Netflix owns the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood and the Paris Theater in New York.

Still, Warner Bros' Sarnoff said the company was not taking the bait. “I'm kind of an armchair sociologist and I think people want to have community experiences and especially with certain genres,” she said. “We are big fans of the exhibitors. They have been good partners of ours for many decades. We support them. I know sledding is difficult right now. I hope they come out the other side, probably even stronger. "

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