U.S. judge agrees to end decades-old movie theater rules

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal judge on Friday granted the U.S. government’s request to immediately end the Paramount Decrees, a set of antitrust rules from the late 1940’s and early 1950’s that ended Hollywood’s monopoly on producing, distributing and exhibiting movies.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan said the Department of Justice “offered a reasonable and persuasive explanation” for why terminating the consent decrees would “serve the public interest in free and unfettered competition.”

Last November, the Justice Department moved to end the decrees enacted after the Supreme Court in 1948 said Hollywood’s biggest studios had illegally monopolized the movie distribution and theater industries.

New rules made it illegal for studios to unreasonably limit how many theaters could show movies in specific geographic areas.

They also banned “block booking,” which forced theaters to show bad movies as well as blockbusters as part of a package, and “circuit dealing,” the mass licensing of movies to theaters under common ownership rather than theater-by-theater.

The Justice Department said the decrees were no longer needed after multiplexes, broadcast and cable TV, DVDs and the internet changed how people watch movies, and because studios no longer dominated movie theater ownership. It also said the risk of future violations was low.

Three chains–AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Regal–control about half of the 41,000 U.S. movie screens.

Torres’ order includes a two-year “sunset” provision for ending the block booking and circuit dealing bans, to minimize market disruption.

Critics of the termination said it could threaten the survival of smaller theater owners.

The National Association of Theater Owners, whose members have about 35,000 screens, supported retaining the block booking ban, while the Independent Cinema Alliance said the termination could reduce its members’ competitiveness and movie diversity,

Neither group was immediately available to comment.

The Justice Department has in recent months moved to end dozens of consent decrees it considers obsolete.

The cases are U.S. v. Paramount Pictures Inc and U.S. v. Loew’s Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-mc-00544.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

Most Americans to avoid sports, other live events before coronavirus vaccine: Reuters/Ipsos

By Rory Carroll

Fewer than half of Americans plan to go to sports events, concerts, movies and amusement parks when they reopen to the public until there is a proven coronavirus vaccine, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday.

That includes those who have attended such events in the past, an ominous sign for the sports and entertainment industries hoping to return to the spotlight after being shut down by the pandemic.

Only about four in 10 who follow sports avidly and go to arts and entertainment venues and amusement parks said they would do so again if they reopened before a vaccine was available, the poll found.

Another four in 10 said they were willing to wait, even if it takes more than a year to develop a vaccine.

The rest said they either “don’t know” what to do or may never attend those events again.

“Just because people say we can go back, until people feel fully safe … they aren’t going to go back,” said Victor Matheson, a specialist in sports economics at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts.

“We go to games for entertainment and you’re not going to be very entertained if you’re not worrying about who the next player to bat is and instead worrying about that person who just coughed two rows down.”

The United States leads the world with almost 1 million coronavirus infections and more than 56,000 deaths as of late Monday.

While as many as 100 potential vaccines are in development around the world, scientists are projecting that bringing one to market could take 18 months.


Only 17% of American adults said they would attend professional sporting events when they reopen to the public, while 26% said they would rather wait until there is a vaccine.

Among those who have attended a professional sporting event in the past year, 42% said they would return whenever it reopens to the public and 39% said they would rather wait for a vaccine, even if that means waiting more than a year.

Cincinnati resident Angie Hopkins, who has gone to pro games in the past, said she would not attend them again before there is a vaccine, out of concern for her health and that of her son.

“The risk of being with all those people, crammed in together, I think that would be unsettling,” she said.

“I have fibromyalgia, which could make me at risk for more serious complications. And my son has asthma, so I wouldn’t want to expose him either.”

About 59% of sports fans agreed that before a vaccine is available, professional sports leagues that have seen their seasons upended – like Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League – should hold games with no in-person fans, while 33% disagreed.

That could spell trouble for tennis’ U.S. Open, which is scheduled to kick off in hard-hit New York City on Aug. 24. Organizers have said it was highly unlikely that they would hold the largest and loudest Grand Slam tournament without fans.

It is also unclear whether the NFL will delay the scheduled Sept. 10 start of its 101st season. Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week he believed the season could begin on time, but did not specify whether the league would consider doing so without fans.


The poll showed that only 27% of those questioned would go to a movie theater, concert or live theater performance when venues reopen, underscoring the hurdles faced by the entertainment industry as it tries to get back on its feet.

Thirty-two percent said they would wait for a vaccine before going back to the movies, theater or concerts.

In all, 55% of Americans said those events should not resume before a vaccine is available.

Movie buff and music fan Ana Morales of Bristow, Virginia, said she did not plan to visit a theater where she has a membership or attend a summer country music series until there is a vaccine.

“It would be a bit reckless for us to go,” she said, adding that she would be afraid of spreading the disease to her in-laws, who are over 60 years old.

She said that even if theaters implemented social-distancing rules, she would worry that shared surfaces like seats had not been cleaned thoroughly.

Hollywood has been tentatively hoping movie theaters could reopen partially by late July and recoup some losses from the normally lucrative summer season.

While dozens of summer movie releases have already been moved to the autumn or into 2021, Walt Disney Co’s “Mulan” and Warner Bros. “Wonder Woman 1984” are scheduled for release in July and August respectively.

Most musicians, including Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and the Rolling Stones have canceled or postponed their 2020 tour dates.

The annual Coachella music festival in Southern California, which usually draws about 90,000 people, shifted its April dates to October in the hope the worst of the coronavirus pandemic would be over by then.

Enthusiasm for amusement and theme parks was even bleaker. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they should not reopen until a vaccine is available. Only 20% said they would visit a theme park when they reopen.

Universal Studios has extended its closures in California and Florida until at least May 31, while Disneyland and Walt Disney World are closed indefinitely.

Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger said earlier in April that temperature checks for visitors were one of the measures under consideration for any eventual reopening.

Broadway theaters were forced to shut down in mid-March and extended the closure to June 7, with several producers saying their plays would not return at all.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll surveyed 4,429 American adults from April 15 to 21, asking about their previous attendance at sports events and live concerts and their interest in attending if they reopened before a coronavirus vaccine is available. The poll questions noted a vaccine might not be available for more than a year.

Georgia cafes, theaters open as U.S. states ease more restrictions

By Rich McKay and Susan Heavey

ATLANTA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Georgia on Monday will start allowing residents to dine inside restaurants or watch a movie at a theater, as more U.S. states from Minnesota to Mississippi took steps to ease coronavirus restrictions despite the warnings of health experts.

Colorado, Montana and Tennessee were also set to reopen some businesses to start reviving their battered economies. Oklahoma, Alaska and South Carolina, along with Georgia, previously took such steps following weeks of mandatory lockdowns that threw millions of Americans out of work.

President Donald Trump and some local officials have criticized Georgia Governor Brian Kemp for orders that enabled restaurants and theaters to join a list of businesses, such as hair and nail salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors, he allowed to reopen last week with social-distancing restrictions.

One restaurant chain, Waffle House, was imposing seating arrangements in Georgia that will keep patrons at least six feet apart, stricter sanitization measures and a requirement that employees wear masks, CEO Walt Ehmer told WSB-TV.

“I know the unemployment system has been enhanced to help take care of the most vulnerable people, but people want to have jobs, and they want to have something to do and take care of their families,” Ehmer said. “I think it’s going to give them some hope.”

Public health authorities warn that increasing human interactions and economic activity may spark a fresh surge of infections just as social-distancing measures appear to be bringing coronavirus outbreaks under control.

Meanwhile, the number of known infections in the United States kept climbing on Monday, topping 970,000 as the number of lives lost to COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus, surpassed 54,800.


Officials in some of the hardest-hit states such as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have been emphasizing for weeks that more testing and contact tracing for the virus needed to be in place before they could implement roadmaps for restarting their economies.

Contact tracing involves tracking down and testing people who may have been around anyone already infected.

“Testing is the way forward, and it’s been a long fight just to get the testing,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a briefing on Monday.

He said a new “self-swab” test, which allows patients to administer it to themselves under the supervision of medical personnel, will be available this week at sites run by New York public hospitals.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said in a Twitter message that he would announce a roadmap for “responsibly reopening” the state at a news conference on Monday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday that businesses including manufacturing and construction in parts of the state with fewer cases of the virus might reopen after his shutdown order expires on May 15.

In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis has given the green light for retail curbside pickup to begin on Monday. Hair salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors may open on Friday, with retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters to follow.

“I would stay home if the government encouraged that, but they’re not. They’re saying, ‘Hey, the best thing to do is go back to work, even though it might be risky,’” Royal Rose, 39, owner of a tattoo studio in Greeley, Colorado, told Reuters.

In a further step to ramp up supplies to fight the pandemic, Trump planned to meet with American textile industry representatives on Monday as clothiers seek to shift their production lines to face masks and other critical items, the White House said.

Companies are aiming “to repurpose their factories from making things like T-shirts into gowns and masks and things like cotton swabs” used for coronavirus testing, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News.

Business shutdowns have led to a record 26.5 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits since mid-March with predictions from the Trump administration that the jobless rate would likely hit 16% or more in April.

“The next couple of months are going to look terrible,” Trump’s economic adviser Kevin Hassett told reporters on Sunday.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem on Monday said she hoped Smithfield’s Sioux Falls pork processing plant can reopen soon, a day after U.S. labor regulators urged the meat industry to adopt certain measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus among workers. The country’s meat plants have emerged as hot spots for the spread of the virus.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Susan Heavey in Washington; additional reporting by Maria Caspani and Jessica Resnick-Ault; writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller)

Saudi Arabia begins screening films after decades-long ban lifted

Children are seen inside the first Saudi Arabia cinema in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia January 13, 2018. Picture taken January 13, 2018.

By Stephen Kalin

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia began screening feature-length animated children’s films this weekend in a makeshift theater, after a 35-year-old ban on cinemas was lifted in the conservative Islamic kingdom.

The first permanent theaters could open as early as March, part of a liberalizing reform drive that has already opened the door to concerts, comedy shows and women drivers over the past year.

For now, the authorities are sponsoring temporary settings, like the state-run cultural hall in the Red Sea city of Jeddah equipped with a projector, a red carpet and a popcorn machine.

“Until now, there is no infrastructure for movie theaters, so we are trying to take advantage of (alternative) venues to approximate the cinematic form,” said Mamdouh Salim, whose Cinema 70 brand organized the week-long screenings.

“We tried to use these films to be a starting point as the first cinematic screening after the decision on Dec. 11 to permit movie theaters.”

Cinemas were banned in the early 1980s under pressure from Islamists as Saudi society turned towards a particularly conservative form of religion that discouraged public entertainment and public mixing between men and women.

But reforms led by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have eased many of those restrictions, as the government tries to broaden the economy and lessen its dependence on oil.

In a nod to conservatives, films will be censored to make sure they remain in line with the kingdom’s “moral values”.


After watching The Emoji Movie with his wife and daughter on Sunday evening, 28-year-old Sultan al-Otaibi said Saudis are happy to see movies in the theater instead of staying at home.

“It’s more comfortable, more fun to have a change of scenery and an activity on the weekend. It is a step that was very late in coming but thank God it’s happening now.”

Thousands of Saudis currently travel to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and other countries for entertainment. The government wants to retain the money spent on those trips.

The authorities expect to open 300 cinemas with 2,000 screens by 2030, building an industry it hopes will contribute more then 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create 30,000 permanent jobs.

Regional and international cinema chains are also eyeing the Saudi market, keen to tap the spending power of the young people who make up roughly 70 percent of the population.

“I want to see everything because it is something new for Saudi,” said 30-year-old movie-goer Ibtisam Abu Talib. “I hope everything is available – action, romance, children’s films, comedy. Everything, God willing.”

(Reporting By Stephen Kalin, editing by Larry King)