The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) announced this week that Michael P. O’Leary will take over as the organization’s new President and CEO, replacing its long-serving leader John Fithian who is retiring. The two will work together over the next two months to assure a smooth transition, until the torch is formally passed at this year’s annual CinemaCon conference which will take place at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas during the week of April 24th – 27th.
O’Leary has previously held senior management positions at Twentieth Century Fox, the Motion Picture Association, and the U.S. Department of Justice, all organizations having a large impact on the motion picture exhibition industry. He resides in Washington D.C. and one can assume that this proximity to the D.C. levers of power and his prior work with the U.S. government factored in NATO’s decision to hire him in this role.
The pandemic illustrated both the promise and risk that the government can play in the business of exhibitions. On the one hand, the health departments of many state and local governments forced the shutdown of movie theatres in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19. On the other hand, the U.S. government stepped in to provide a financial lifeline to beleaguered exhibitors with the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVOG), credited with keeping small to mid-sized circuits afloat when box office revenues had plummeted. With NATO representing over 67,000 screens worldwide, a leader knowledgeable in the ways of Washington can play an essential role in assuring the future well-being of the sector.