Theater CEOs Say the Writers Strike Is TV’s Problem — for Now

AMC and Cinemark leaders say theaters and movie studios can work around a months-long strike, "unfortunate" as it may be.
Cinemark CEO Sean Gamble AMC CEO Adam Aron Writers Strike
Cinemark CEO Sean Gamble (left) and AMC CEO Adam Aron
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It’s Day 4 of the 2023 writers strike, and while some early impacts to television are already being felt, those in the theatrical business aren’t sweating things just yet.

Both AMC and Cinemark, the largest and third largest theater chains in the country respectively, held their quarterly earnings calls on Friday morning, when each were asked by analysts how they feel a writers strike could have an impact on their businesses. The short answer? It won’t, unless the strike becomes very “prolonged.”

“Look, we’re very sympathetic to the real problems that exist for members of the Writers Guild. Streaming has changed the landscape of television, it’s changed the economics of what writers earn. We are hopeful that the Hollywood producers and the Writers Guild can work in good faith to craft a solution that’s good for all parties,” AMC CEO Adam Aron said Friday morning. “As far as its impact on AMC and the movie industry, if this is a short strike — and by ‘short strike’ I don’t mean days, I mean months — its impact will mostly be felt on television programming. Because the movies for ’23 and ’24 have pretty much been written. In many cases they’ve already been filmed. I think only a very prolonged writers strike would have material impact on the movie industry or AMC.”

Cinemark CEO Sean Gamble, who said that while it’s “unfortunate it’s come to this” and will have an impact on a lot of people, is mostly on the same page. It’s too early to speculate on how it will impact the theatrical space, he said, especially as we’re still waiting on what happens with other guilds negotiating in the next two months.

“The ultimate impact as you know really depends on how long the strike lasts. A lengthier one posts more risk than a shorter one,” Gamble said. “While television tends to feel more of an immediate impact from these types of strikes, the positive thing for our industry in the short run, the majority of the films scheduled for this year and the next are unlikely to be materially affected based on the stage of production they’re in to hit those dates. We know from our studio partners they’ve been planning for this, trying to accelerate where they can, and given the long lead time of making films are often able to recuperate some of that time down the line depending on how it goes.”

Gamble put it in context of the 2007-08 WGA strike that lasted 100 days. While movies were delayed to some degree back then, Gamble said “overall disruption to the flow of films was fairly limited.”

“The studios, they were able to pull forward and work around that because of the lead times of their productions to try to minimize the overall impacts,” he said. “We’re going to have to see how things progress, and hard to say at what point there’s a tipping point in terms of impact. I know it’s something that we’re watching and our studio partners are very focused on, as they certainly don’t want to have a major disruption in their flow of content.”

That both Aron and Gamble were asked to weigh in is surprising given that Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav was not, but we guess those analysts had other questions on their minds.  

In Q1, AMC cut its net losses by over $100 million compared to the same period in 2022 year over year, while Cinemark announced this quarter that it had reduced $100 million of its overall debt load. Both AMC and Cinemark were riding the impressive box office behind “Avatar: The Way of Water,” but also other films that performed better than expected in the early part of the year.

You’ll forgive Aron and Gamble for the optimism — both are coming off a very positive CinemaCon 2023 week. Our favorite highlights from the ground included the full screening of “The Flash,” a first look at Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and a very early preview for the movie musical adaptation of “Wicked.”

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