Having recently announced his retirement, NATO’s President and CEO John Fithian gave an exclusive interview to Deadline this week in which he discussed many of the key issues he faced during his 24-year tenure at the exhibitor trade group.
Of course, the most recent key contribution to the industry was NATO’s role in helping exhibitors survive the devastating impact of the COVID pandemic. Fithian admits that he had his own doubts about whether theatres could survive after the shock of dropping from a “$43 Billion business to $0” in a single month. But with persistence in lobbying, NATO convinced key leaders in government to provide financial support through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program.
Earlier challenges included a fight from the 1990s to keep Washington lawmakers from introducing a “violence tax” on media deemed to have crossed “acceptable” boundaries in their portrayal of violence. Oliver Stone’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994) sparked the tempest, which raged in Washington. The cost to the industry and distortion of creative decisions would have been substantial, had this effort not been headed off.
Another fundamental change came when studios mandated a transition from film to digital technology for mainstream distribution. Ultimately, the studios were convinced to provide financial support to exhibitors so they could afford to upgrade, with benefits accruing to all parties.
Fithian will officially step down on May 1st, 2023, with his successor expected to be announced next April at the annual CinemaCon exhibitor conference.