Hollywood Sends Letter to Congress Asking for Theatrical Fiscal Relief

A movie theater group, the Motion Picture Association of America, Directors Guild of America and dozens of filmmakers have sent a joint letter to leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives asking for leftover fiscal assistance from the CARES Act be redirected to exhibitors.

In the letter addressed to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), among others, the National Association of Theatre Owners said more than 280 million people went to the movie theater in 2019. With the coronavirus shuttering theaters worldwide in mid-March, NATO said 93% of movie theaters suffered 75% fiscal losses in the second quarter of 2020.

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Exhibitors had hoped that Warner Bros.’ Labor Day theatrical release, Tenet, would bring moviegoers back. And the movie has — internationally. But domestically, the film has sputtered since its $20.2 million opening weekend.

NATO said that if the theater closures continue, 69% of small and mid-sized movie theater companies will be forced to file for bankruptcy or to close permanently, and 66% of theater jobs will be lost.

“Our country cannot afford to lose the social, economic, and cultural value that theaters provide,” read the letter. “Movie theaters are in dire straits,  and we urge you to redirect unallocated funds from the CARES Act to proposals that help businesses that  have suffered the steepest revenue drops due to the pandemic, or to enact new proposals such as the RESTART Act (S. 3814/H.R. 7481).”

The trade group said that absent a fiscal solution, theaters may not survive the impact of the pandemic.

“Please fight for our country’s beloved and essential cinemas by including relief for them in any forthcoming COVID-19 legislation,” read the letter.

Ted Sarandos, Bob Iger Among Executives on California Gov.’s Task Force Seeking $1 Trillion in Congressional Virus Relief for Local Governments

Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos and Disney executive chairman Bob Iger have joined a group of more than 90 California business leaders calling on Congress to approve $1 trillion in coronavirus fiscal relief for all states and local governments.

Sarandos and Iger are members of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Task Force on Business & Jobs Recovery organized to deal with the economic, environmental and social fallout from the pandemic.

In a May 15 letter to House and Senate leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the task force said COVID-19 has “fundamentally” changed how business and organizations operate and are managed.

“The worst of the economic impact is likely still to come,” read the letter.

The group said successful re-opening of state and local economies relies on building confidence among consumers that it is safe to shop and greater certainty for workers that the services they rely on to do their jobs will remain in place.

“Without that, we will be a re-opened economy in name only,” they wrote.

The group said it stands with business leaders throughout the nation, from both sides of the aisle, who said the funds would protect core government services like public health, public safety, public education and helping people get back to work.

“This funding will help our states and cities — and America’s economy — come out of this crisis stronger and more resilient,” they wrote.

The letter came on the day the Democrat-controlled House approved a $3 trillion relief bill, which included $1 trillion in states aid. The Republican-controlled Senate is not expected to pass the bill.

Exhibitors Group to Congress: Pass $2 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill or Theaters Will Go Bankrupt

With U.S. Senate working through the weekend to finalize a $2 trillion-dollar coronavirus relief bill, the National Association of Theatre Owners says that without the relief most exhibitors will go out of business.

With the global pandemic crossing into the United States with a vengeance, all domestic screens are dark with no return to business as usual for the foreseeable future as state governors order residents to avoid congregating in groups larger than 10.

John Fithian, CEO of the exhibitors group, told Variety that without federal guarantees in the relief bill, theatres can’t get banks to forward loans to help carry them through the pandemic.

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“Overnight, we went from an industry that makes $15 billion a year — $11 billion in ticket sales and $4 billion in concessions — to one that is not going to make a penny for three or four months,” Fithian said.

Indeed, last weekend’s box office (through March 15) was the lowest in 20 years at less than $55 million. Most studios have delayed releasing major titles, while expediting other titles into retail channels sooner.

While the focus on the spending bill revolves around unemployment benefits, cash subsidies to people economically affected by the situation and  other issues, relief would be earmarked for some industries, including $150 billion for “severely distressed businesses.”

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White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow, speaking to the media, said the stimulus package would likely equal 10% of U.S. economic output, or about $2 trillion. The bill would include $50 billion for airlines and $8 billion to cargo air carriers.

Media reports say the hotel industry wants $150 billion, the restaurant industry wants $145 billion. The National Association of Manufacturers wants $1.4 trillion. The International Council of Shopping Centers alone wants a guarantee upwards of $1 trillion.

It may depend whether the Senate (and the House) considers movie exhibitors essential to the economy in the short-term.

“The bailout requests are mind-boggling,” Dennis Kelleher, CEO of Better Markets, a non-partisan financial markets advocacy group, told CNN. “And it’s going to be a matter of who’s going to win and who’s going to lose.”

 

Theaters Seek Government Assistance for ‘Unprecedented’ Crisis

The movie theater industry is asking for Congress and the Trump Administration to urgently consider fiscal relief as it grapples with a global shut down of business operations due to the coronavirus.

In a March 18 statement from the National Association of Theatre Owners, the trade group said the immediate fiscal aid would allow exhibitors and its 150,000 employees to weather the present COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

Exhibitors, which include AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas, are looking for loan guarantees to ease liquidity issues imposed by fixed costs in the face of non-existent revenue.

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They also are seeking tax benefits to assist employers with providing support to employees; relief from the burden of costs that are ongoing despite closures; and additional tax measures that would allow theaters recoup losses when the industry is back up and running.

Simply stated: the current business model of the movie theater industry is uniquely vulnerable in the present COVID-19 crisis.

“As we confront this evolving and unprecedented period, we call on Congress and the Administration to ensure that America’s movie theater industry and its tens of thousands of employees across the country can remain resilient,” NATO said.

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Separately, NATO’s executive board authorized $1 million dollars drawn from its reserve to aid movie theater employees who are out of work due to movie theater closures stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The money will be used as seed funds for an effort to help tide workers over in this crisis in cooperation with our industry partners. Details of the fund will be released shortly.

 

Lawmakers Introduce ‘Save the Internet’ Bill

As expected, Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate March 6 introduced legislation aimed at overturning the FCC’s 2017 repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order, or net neutrality.

Dubbed “Save the Internet Act,” the bill seeks to re-classify the Internet as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934 prohibiting Internet service providers from blocking, throttling or creating fast lanes and slow lanes by charging extra fees to prioritize content.

“Since the FCC foolishly repealed net neutrality, we’ve seen a wild west where monopoly telephone and cable companies have been free to do what they want at the expense of consumers,” Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner, said in a statement in support of the legislation.

Copp contends there exists evidence of broadband providers throttling speeds, degrading video quality, and creating service plans that favor their own content over competitors.

“The harms will only get worse the longer net neutrality remains repealed,” he said.

Jason Pye, VP of legislative affairs with FreedomWorks, a lobby group supporting small government, lower taxes and free markets, said repeal of net neutrality guidelines was an attempt to correct government overreach.

“This Democratic proposal is yet another solution in search of a problem,” said Pye. “Our Internet grew, innovated, and thrived under a light touch regulatory framework. The Democrats’ bill would inhibit future innovation and would only serve to increase big government control over the lives of everyday Americans.”

Regardless, the bill must pass Congress and then be signed by President Trump – a long shot considering Trump’s appointee to run the FCC – Ajit Pai – personally pushed for the net neutrality repeal.

 

 

Parent Group Calls on Congress to Pass ‘Family Movie Act Clarification Act’ as Christmas Gift

The Parents Television Group, the longstanding censorship advocacy group founded by Christian conservatives, Dec. 5 called upon House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass the “Family Movie Act Clarification Act of 2018” (H.R. 6816) before lawmakers break for the winter holidays Dec. 14.

The bill seeks to amend the “Family Entertainment and Copyright Act,” which included the “Family Home Movie Act of 2005,” enabling third-party software to edit playback of Hollywood movie DVDs containing up to 14 different categories of objectionable content.

The amended resolution seeks to include technology capable of editing streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.

“With the quickly approaching end of … this session of Congress, we call on our elected leaders in Washington immediately to pass the Family Movie Act Clarification Act and present it to the President [Trump] for his signature, thereby providing an important and urgently-needed Christmas present for parents and for families,” Tim Winter, president of PTC, said in a statement.

In 2016, studios won a court decision against VidAngel, a company selling software enabling users to filter out language, nudity, violence, and other mature content from movies and TV series. The studios said the software was a form of copyright infringement.

The PTC claims 30 pro-family groups support the new bill, including Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, Dr. James Dobson of Family Talk, Bishop Harry Jackson of ICC Churches, and Ted Baehr of Movieguide.

Winter questions studios’ motives for fighting home entertainment editing software, claiming doing so deprives the industry much-needed sales of packaged media and digital content.

“The legislation is a no-brainer,” said Winter. “It simply brings the Family Movie Act – which allows families to filter explicit content from DVDs – onto contemporary streaming media platforms used by most Americans today. The pending legislation is consistent with, and perfectly honors, the congressional intent expressed when the original measure became law in 2005.”

 

 

AT&T CEO Calls on Congress to Restore Net Neutrality

AT&T chairman/CEO Randall Stephenson apparently believes in miracles.

Speaking Nov. 12 at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Tech D. Live confab in Laguna Beach, Calif., Stephenson called on politically-divided Congress to enact net neutrality guidelines for the nation’s Internet service providers.

It was wishful thinking, Stephenson agreed, joking the lawmakers can’t agree on the freezing temperature of water.

“I get fatigued every time the President changes, the head of the FCC changes, and regulations swing from left to right,” he said.

Indeed, with politics driving the Obama-era net neutrality guidelines enacted in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission, a slightly revamped FCC three years later under President Trump rescinded the provisions that sought to treat the Internet as a utility, intending to safeguard content distribution against ISPs throttling, denying access, and charging higher prices for faster streaming speeds, among other issues.

To Stephenson, whose telecom is both an ISP and streaming content distributor and creator through subsidiary WarnerMedia, the lack of clear regulation will only encourage individual states to employ their own versions of net neutrality – as California lawmakers voted to do this year.

“What would be at total disaster for the innovation we see in Silicon Valley is to pick our head up and have 50 different sets of rules across the U.S.,” Stephenson said.

Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai – an Obama nominee upped to head the agency by Trump – has argued that net neutrality is regulation in search of an industry.

“It is not the job of the government to pick the winners and losers of the internet … We should have a level playing field [via market forces],” Pai said earlier this year.

Critics contend the lack of regulation hurts consumers. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel – a Democrat – said reversing net neutrality put the FCC “on the wrong side of the American public.”

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month declined to hear a case brought by the telecommunications industry and the Department of Justice seeking to reverse a lower appeals court ruling upholding the subsequently rescinded Obama-era guidelines.

The Supreme Court’s lack of action does not reverse the repeal of the net neutrality guidelines, and leaves the door open to future litigation should a future FCC restore the guidelines.

The latest round of net neutrality lawsuits involves the Trump Administration, arguing the supremacy clause gives the Federal government the sole authority to regulate the Internet in the United States, suing states attempting to enact their own stricter guidelines.

 

 

House Passes Updated Music Copyright Bill

The House of Representatives April 25 approved the Music Modernization Act (H.R. 5447), legislation intended to update music copyright laws and remuneration to artists and creators in the digital age.

The bill, which was introduced to the House on April 10 House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), would be the biggest update to music legislation in 40 years, if confirmed by the Senate, according to the Recording Academy.

To help gain passage of the bill, the Academy sent more than 100 Grammy winners, nominees and industry leaders to meet with lawmakers in the House and Senate April 18-19 as part of the Academy’s “Grammys on the Hill” grassroots initiative.

The Music Modernization Act unites provisions from four previously introduced bills — the Allocation for Music Producers (AMP) Act, the Classics Act, the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, and a songwriter-specific version of the Music Modernization Act —under one legislative umbrella to ensure advancement and protections for all music creators.

The Recording Academy has been championing the need for music reform in the digital age as public consumption of recorded music moves from transactional to subscription streaming. The Academy first established a lobbying presence in Washington, D.C., 20 years ago, according to CEO Neil Portnow.

“Passage of the Music Modernization Act in the House is a historic step forward for all music creators, ensuring that they are credited, paid, and shown the respect they deserve for the impact they have on our culture and daily life,” Portnow said in a statement.

A hearing is expected to be scheduled in the Senate within the coming weeks.

Effort to Nix FCC Net Neutrality Repeal Reaches Senate Floor

A legislative attempt to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality achieved the required approval from 30 lawmakers to force a vote on the Senate floor, according to public action group “Fight For the Future.”

A Congressional Review Act (CRA) – enacted by House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton – empowers Congress (within 60 days) to override any new federal regulation in an expedited process by simple majority vote.

Begun by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the initiative gained 26 signatures shortly after the FCC’s 3-2 vote in December repealing provisions regulating the Internet as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

The repeal meant Internet Service Providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon no longer would be required to treat all Internet traffic equally.

“We will fight the FCC’s decision in the courts, and we will fight in the halls of Congress,” Markey said in a statement last month.

Indeed, the Internet Association, a trade group featuring Netflix, Google, Amazon and other online companies, has pledged to fight the FCC vote in the courts.

Should the Senate vote to overturn the FCC vote, the issue would still need to pass the House and be approved by President Trump.