The National Association of Cinema Operators (NACO) is optimistic about securing COVID-19 assistance funding for major exhibitors, days after blasting the government’s $20 million commitment to support independent cinemas.

In a statement released on Friday, executive director Michael Hawkins said he was “immensely disappointed” the government had failed to support the majority of the Australian cinema industry with the Supporting Cinemas’ Retention Endurance and Enhancement of Neighbourhoods (SCREEN) Fund.

Administered by Screen Australia, the fund will allow independent cinema operators who have experienced declines in revenue to be able to apply for one-off business grants of up to $85,000. Independent cinemas make up around 30 per cent of the exhibition sector.

But Hawkins now believes there is hope for non-independent operators struggling from the ongoing impact of the pandemic, following subsequent discussions between NACO and the Treasury.

“I’m pleased the government has been receptive to understanding this plight of cinemas is uniform and not just independents, as well as that the majors are the major employers of cinema employees,” he said.

“I am optimistic there will be a positive outcome.”

Ongoing COVID-19 challenges in the USA and Europe has meant studios have held back or moved many blockbuster releases to commence from June/July this year, putting further pressure on cinemas which had been forced to close during the COVID lockdown.

NACO previously provided a submission to the government that outlined the need for a $30 million whole-of-industry support package, which took into consideration number of at-risk employees and the number of possible cinema closures, as well as the JobSeeker amount.

Hawkins said the rationale was that it would be better for the government to pay the equivalent of the Jobseeker subsidy and keep the cinema employees in the job, rather than have them “officially unemployed” and receiving the payment.

“The idea was to just support the employees,” he said.

“It’s not any other form of support, other than looking after the future of Australian employees.”

He said while he was surprised by the government’s decision to leave out the major exhibitors, that employed greater numbers of industry workers, he noted it was consistent with its previous funding packages for SMEs.

“[The government] told us they had to draw the line somewhere with financial support – across the board,” he said.

“I have read into that they’ve been supporting SMEs, as they have done all along, and as has been the case around the world.”

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