Texas movie theaters will be given the green light by government officials to open their doors this week -- although it remains to be seen how many, if any, will take advantage of the opportunity. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has announced that movie theaters will be allowed to reopen on Friday, part of a class of businesses that also includes restaurants, retail stores not previously deemed "essential," and museums. As parts of the United States begin to relax social distancing requirements put into place in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Texas makes sense as the first large state to mostly reopen.
Texas is such a large state geographically, that even though it has a huge population and some very large cities, social distancing is easier to do almost by default. In Texas, there have been about 25,000 reported cases of COVID-19 and 660 reported deaths. Compare this not just with states like New York and Michigan, where they had significantly more cases and deaths, but also with Texas's neighbor to the east, Louisiana, where 26,000 cases have resulted in more than 1,700 deaths.
It is also a state with a Republican governor and a long history of bristling at federal authority, meaning that both the government and the general population is more philosophically predisposed to opening back up. U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has long expressed a desire to put social distancing in the rear view mirror and get the economy open again as quickly as possible. The issue has become partisan in a lot of states, with Democratic officials expressing a desire to move more slowly in order to prevent a second wave of the pandemic, while many Republicans are arguing that the curve has been flattened out and businesses can move more quickly. An anti-establishment streak that runs through a lot of Texans -- this is, after all, a state that has seen serious efforts to secede from the U.S. in living memory -- also means that there are likely a lot of people willing to chalk up any risks associated with opening back up with the cost of individual liberty.
Variety reports that Abbott is aware many chains may not choose to reopen, since even as there is permission, the requirement that they operate at limited capacity (25% for cinemas) may make it economically unfeasible to reopen right away.
Most major cinema chains are not expected to open locations even in states where social distancing rules are relaxed. AMC has already said they don't plan to open back up until major studio tentpoles are playing again, tentatively in July. The thinking is that with nothing to motivate audiences to show up in large numbers, it costs more for theaters to be open -- paying licensing fees, buying and preparing concessions, and paying their employees -- than it is to keep the lights off. Some may argue that just being open again is exciting enough to get butts in seats, but screening movies already available on home video, and charging theater pricing for it, is a niche business model. Smaller chains like Texas's own Alamo Drafthouse may be able to experiment with such a model, but there is nothing to indicate whether or not they will.