That sounds like a good idea. What’s the problem?
Well, the trouble is, the aforementioned smaller theaters in competition with Big Multiplex contend that the chains are using their considerable clout and ability to generate ticket sales to force distributors into giving them preferential treatment and first dibs on big movies, which keeps them out of the independent theaters and chains, and thus hurts those businesses. Specifically, per the LA Times, theaters in California and Georgia have sued the big chains, while theaters in Texas, California, and Kansas have taken their complaints of “monopoly power” to the Department of Justice, prompting this investigation of “potentially anticompetitive conduct.”
Is there a precedent for this kind of thing?
Indeed! Back in 1948, the Supreme Court ruled against Paramount Pictures — but, in doing so, it was ruling against all of the Hollywood studios — in a landmark antitrust decision. At that time, the studios not only made and distributed films, but exhibited them as well, in their own theaters and chains; it was a practice known as “block booking,” which the Court ruled was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. As a result, studios were forced to divest of their theatrical holdings (which led to a decrease in production and, some have argued, the beginning of the end of the studio system). But that decision also led to, wouldn’t ya know it, the very same film clearances that are now so controversial; they were initially intended to guarantee (irony of ironies) that independent theaters would have access to first-run films.
So what will happen next?
It’s hard to tell. The investigation could last up to a year, and it’s difficult to imagine anything resembling the industry shake-up of the Paramount case; Big Multiplex’s practices are under investigation, but not their right to own that many screens. (We’re a lot more accommodating of monopolies in mass media these days, as you might’ve noticed.) All three chains have stated that they are merely following industry standards and have, obviously, insisted they haven’t violated any laws. But if the practice of film clearances is determined to give Big Multiplex an unfair advantage over their competitors, there could be consequences: reform of, or even injunctions against, those clearances, as well as potential civil suits from the government and antitrust suits from the chains’ competitors. So, in short, the DOJ investigation probably won’t affect whether you see next summer’s blockbusters — but it could affect where you see them.