Major Studios Might Be Able to Buy Their Own Theaters Soon – Why That’s a Bad Thing

     November 18, 2019

Here’s a heaping dose of “yikes” for anyone worried about the future of independent cinemas and major studios’ stranglehold on film distribution: The U.S. Department of Justice is moving to get rid of the Paramount Consent Decrees, a long-standing set of regulations that curbed the way major studios distributed their films. In a speech to the American Bar Association, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim said [via Variety] the decrees “no longer serve the public interest, because the horizontal conspiracy — the original violation animating the decrees — has been stopped.”

The Decrees have been in place since the 1948 ruling in “United States v. Paramount Pictures”, a motion that was essential in an era when major studios controlled every aspect of the filmmaking process, down to distributing the movies to theaters. In a post-Decrees system, studios couldn’t withhold films from certain theaters while granting exclusive rights to others—something that would kill indie spots—or outright buy theaters of their own. Which is why it’s a truly strange decision to overturn them now, at a time when Disney, in particular, is already flooding the market. Basically, your local Laemmle isn’t going to last long against a Disney theater showing all the Marvel movies itself.

“Changes over the course of more than half a century also have made it unlikely that the remaining defendants can reinstate their cartel,” Delrahim said. “Evolution in antitrust law has further made blanket prohibitions of certain vertical restraints inappropriate. Accordingly, the Division finds the consent decrees no longer meet consumer interests.”

Delrahim, bafflingly, ended by quoting Martin Scorsese, a director who has popped up repeatedly in recent headlines because he thinks the filmmaking marketplace has become dangerously crowded.

“As filmmaker Martin Scorsese says, ‘Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.'” he said. “Antitrust enforcers, however, were not cast to decide in perpetuity what’s in and what’s out with respect to innovation in an industry. Our role is instead to weigh evidence-based arguments to enforce the antitrust laws — not to act as directors in the marketplace.”For more generally worrying news about the future of watching movies, here is the latest on Disney putting 20th Century Fox films back into the vault.

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