Thursday, November 21, 2019

MGM Loews Theaters Once More?

The Justice Department has signaled that it will wipe out the Paramount consent decrees, orders from the United States v. Paramount Pictures case designed to end monopolies in the motion picture industry.  Prior to the decrees, movie studios also owned the movie theaters their pictures were shown in.  In so doing, they were completely vertically integrated - they owned the means of production, with writers, actors, directors, etc. all on contract and tied to the studio, and they owned the ultimate channel of distribution - they owned the movie theater the picture would be shown in.  They might own the only theater in a market, meaning one town might only get to see Paramount Pictures and not 20th Century Fox, Universal, and the like.  Because they owned the theater, they had complete control over what it would show.  They programmed the shorts, the news reel, and the feature.  They made sure B-pictures got shown an appropriate time, so that the major A-pictures would be carried.

In short the studio was king.

By removing Paramount decrees, it looks like we are going to move back to that time.  The studio believes that with streaming and the new technologies, the decrees are not as relevant.  I would counter that they are more relevant than ever.  Particularly when it comes to vertical integration.

Currently, AMC, Regal (Cineworld), and Cinemark account for half of the American movie theater market.  Meaning, if you are seeing a movie in the theater in America, chances are you are seeing it at one of these three theaters.  What happens when Disney, who now accounts for 1/3 of gross ticket sales, purchases one of these theaters?  If Disney buys the biggest, AMC?

Does Disney make AMC show only Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Pictures?

Does it allow other studios films to be shown at the AMC at a much higher percent of the ticket sales?

Or does it just guarantee its own studios a longer release window?

What happens to a place like Forney where there is just a AMC theater?  Do you only get to see Disney films in that case, having to drive much further to see other studios?

Can smaller, independent theaters actually survive in this market?  Or would studios make bigger demands like Disney did with The Last Jedi, with Disney requiring 65% of ticket sales from each theater, with a four week guarantee window (and an extra 5% penalty for anything less)?

Movie theaters and streaming services are not equivalent.  A streaming service is more equivalent to a broadcast channel, which we've allowed studios to have for a while.  Generally because studios don't control distribution of the channel.  And they don't have distribution of the streaming service either (at least in most cases - that's what makes AT&T/Warner so troubling).  The internet access is independent of the streaming service.  Having Disney+ does not prevent you from having access to Peacock,  Universal's streaming offering, or HBO Max, Warner Bros.' steaming offering.

Disney (or any other studio) owning AMC might make all the difference in other studios films being shown in certain areas.  That's the problem.

Our Justice Department is getting more and more comfortable with monopolies.

That should trouble everyone.

Not just film buffs and historians like me.

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