First, let's be realistic, 'kay? Cutting overall seating in half would allow politicians to virtue signal, but it would destroy theatres. Ticket prices would skyrocket. In a word, it would be ludicrous...JUST LUDICROUS. Let's get smarter people, not nuts.
I managed movie theatres for 7 years, so I hope you like my recommendations. These should raise safety and comfort a nervous public, all without devastating costs for theatres.
1. In stadium seating auditoriums, raise the screen a few feet, then put a short plexiglass shield (about a foot tall) on the barrier in front of each seating section. These rows are already about 6 feet apart, and the added shield would provide extra protection for the row below. Raising the screen would adapt to the new sightline.
2. Virtually all seating is pre-ordered now, so whenever a group purchases tickets, the system should automatically create an empty seat on each side (the aisle already is an empty seat). Then, create plexiglass shields that can sit on the empty seats or along the aisles--these would be about a yard high and wide, at the most. Now, every group is isolated, and the walkways are clear.
3. There are almost always lots of empty seats scattered throughout theatre buildings, but there's a problem: They're in the wrong places. Most empty seats are in auditoriums with one of three scenarios: Older films, major films that have run too long on too many screens, and "bombs"--those films falling well short of projections. So, how do we get more of those seats available for movies people still want to see?
First, understand that studios currently contract with theatre chains (like AMC) for each film, based on success projections. A major film will be placed on a large number of screens, declining to a lengthy run at each theatre--perhaps 6-8 weeks.
But if runs are shortened by, say, 25%, this would open more screens in each theatre--more screens, more seating availability for spacing seats. So the same films would be shown, but shortened runs would put blockbusters on, say, 4 screens instead of 3 (more prime seats!), but only for 4-6 weeks--while smaller films would still play in single auditoriums with enough seating. Thus, that big sales bang of early weeks would stay big.
Finally, the "bomb" issue must be adapted for COVID. Have you ever wondered why films that do poorly still wind up taking several screens for multiple weeks? It's all due to contracting between the studio and theatre chains (I won't bore you with details). So the theatres take a risk this film won't bomb, but rather will meet expectations.
That was okay before COVID, but now lost seats are devastating, both for the theatres and Hollywood. So a new "bomb rule" should go in effect: If a movie performs at less than, say, 70% of projections, screen numbers should drop more rapidly as a result--thus freeing up screens and seats for newer movies. In the age of COVID, this benefits theatres, studios, patrons--everyone. The "bomb rule" is a win-win.
4. Percentage take for studios would decline more quickly with shorter runs, while speeding the way to video-at-home releases.
Most movie-goers don't know the theatre isn't keeping the ticket price, but rather is paying about 70-90% of it to the studios in the first couple weeks. This is why theatres must charge a lot for food, as this is how they make their money--the tickets don't even pay the rent.
After the first week or two, the studio's take drops to, say, 50-60% (it all depends on the film). But with runs shortened by 25% to free up more screens for new releases or extended runs on blockbusters, the percentage take for the studios should drop a little quicker to help the theatres.
5. Between shows, seats should receive quick Lysol spraying (doesn't take much) while auditoriums air out. This would be quick--not nearly as time consuming as regular cleaning.
6. The doors should stay open to each theatre during shows, or sanitizer dispensers should be provided wherever a door handle is touched.
7. Finally, the concession stand should feature hand sanitizer dispensers around all candy displays, counters, and drink dispensers. It should be the movie-goers responsibility to keep sanitized, while the theatre should just maintain a reasonably clean environment--not a perfectly germ-free, bubble-wrapped utopia.
Now, let me comment on Universal Studios wanting to release more films directly at home because of big profits they got from "Trolls World Tour:" That situation won't happen again. Not only was there no kid's release competing with it, but Universal had something unprecedented--an entire national captive audience. Everyone was stuck at home. Moreover, all those stuck at home needed fresh viewing for the most impatient members of their families--kids. But that's not all: Due to COVID, families couldn't even come together and share the cost in large homes, THUS ASSURING ALL THE CAPTIVE AUDIENCES HAD TO PAY FULL PRICE AND WATCH SEPARATELY RATHER THAN SHARING COSTS. So much for neighborhood or extended family movie nights!
My point is that "Trolls World Tour" enjoyed a one-off situation that won't exist going forward. No competition, and a national captive audience that was even kept separated to prevent larger movie nights. Unheard of. That won't happen again, and Universal should understand that. Touting the big take of "Trolls World Tour" as a sign of things to come...is insane.
Back to opening theatres. These great businesses can come back with reasonable adjustments, but major adjustments will simply kill them. There is only so much space in a theatre. The lobby and concessions have places that are touched by many patrons. If Government tries to bubble-wrap the movie-going experience for a completely risk-free utopia, Government will destroy the movie-going experience. Period.
Let's work smart, not paranoid. Let's improve safety without expecting ridiculous mandates. While being grateful for rapidly falling COVID fatality rates, let's not throw all caution to the wind.
And above all, let's get back to the movies.