Movie studios could be allowed to own cinemas again

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The days of block booking, and studios owning cinema chains, might be about to return.

Once upon a time in the US, the bulk of cinema screens were under the control of movie studios. But concerns over the amount of control studios had over which films were exhibited led to the introduction of of changes at the behest of the US Supreme Court. It ruled in 1948 that the eight biggest film studios were no longer allowed to own cinemas, such was the level of control they were seen to be exerting over the industry. Likewise, they were no longer allowed practices such as block booking – where a cinema had to take a bad movie if they wanted access to a big new good one – and nor were they allowed to put limits on how many screens in one geographical zone could play a film.

These changes came into American law in 1949, and the US cinema industry’s main players are now Cinemark, Regal and AMC, who have around half of the nation’s screens under their stewardship.

Now, though, we’re in an era where studios own streaming services, and it feels as if the debate has moved on. As such, the Justice Department in the US is revisiting the rules that have been in place for 70 years, with a view to them being relaxed or abolished.

The New York Times has more on the story, here.

The worry for independent cinemas – giant chains are unlikely to be affected – is that block booking will once again be allowed, with the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO, but not that one) arguing “if distributors can engage in block booking, exhibitors may be forced to pack their screens with global tentpoles at the expense of targeted programming”.

The rules, though, could be overturned in the next week or so. Then it’s a case of wait and see just what happens next…

Lead image: BigStock

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