By Beeber, Al on February 27, 2020.
Independent movie theatres across the country are crying foul that they are being prevented from showing popular films.
A petition on change.org has generated thousands of signatures supporting the ability of independent theatres to show films at the same time as major Canadian chain Cineplex.
Len Binning, operator of the Movie Mill in Lethbridge, said Tuesday “it’s probably up to the government to step in and see that fair and equal opportunity exists.”
According to a Canadian Press story last week, the petition, launched by Vancouver’s Rio Theatre, calls for support for indie theatres. It claims if a distributor tries to book a film with an indie theatre anywhere near a Cineplex location, the cinema giant will threaten to pull their own screenings of that film in the area, spooking distributors into shutting out smaller theatres
“This is something indie theatres have been putting up with for years,” said Corinne Lea, the Rio’s owner, in the Canadian Press story. “We are the little guys, so we don’t have much power in this equation.”
Lea’s petition was timed with U.K.-based Cineworld PLC’s recent $2.8-billion bid to takeover Cineplex.
Binning says for 25 years his second-run theatre got movies four to six weeks after they played at Cineplex or the former Famous Players, which Cineplex bought out.
Now independent theatres can wait longer to get popular films and by that time they may already be streaming or on DVD. And the ever-present problem of piracy increases with the delay in getting films to theatres like Binning’s.
In previous years, a hit movie like “Frozen” would be picked up by indie theatres two months after first-run appearances in major chains, but that has changed.
“In two months we would know we would get it but that has disappeared,” said Binning.
“In 25 years, we never had a problem landing second-run product,” a situation Binning says has changed.
“Cineplex officially says they simply license a film and it’s up to distributors to determine who plays it,” says Binning.
“A couple of distributors have been more challenging to deal with than others,” he adds.
Binning says Cineplex will hold films even if they only make a couple of hundred bucks in an entire week.
“That’s 20 tickets in a week,” said Binning. “We’d make more money for us and the distributor” but we can’t get some films.
Movie Mill was the first in Lethbridge to show such films as “Napoleon Dynamite” and the recent Oscar winner “Jojo Rabbit,” a film he says he saw potential in.
The Movie Mill, says Binning, will premiere about six films a month locally, but with a film like “Jojo Rabbit,” he had to agree to pay the same price as a first-run theatre which meant increasing ticket prices by $2.
With the takeover of Cineplex by U.K.’s Cineworld which has 9,518 screens in 790 locations worldwide – according to Wikipedia, Binning is getting more nervous about the theatre business.
“It’s strengthened Cineplex’s stranglehold on the industry. It’s an unfair playing field.
“We’ve always got to wait to see if Cineplex wants it (a film),” says Binning, adding “we have to work multiple times harder to put product on the screen.”
The new exclusivity window, he says, “has cut into our business model,” a situation that is worsened with “streaming and digital release breathing down our necks.
“We used to have two to four months free and clear without worrying.”
Binning says if the public values variety in cinema, they can support the petition at https://www.change.org.
As of Wednesday morning, the petition had generated 13,877 signatures.
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