In April, everything everywhere at once starring Michelle Yeoh was released in theaters across the country. The film hit streaming services in May and came out on DVD and Blu-ray in July. On October 10, Vancouver’s independent Rio Theater was able to reserve the film for the first time.
Owner Corinne Lea says these wait times are getting longer.
Theaters like his used to receive these kinds of films within two to three weeks of their initial release, he says.
“Now it’s as much as six months to a year,” he told CBC News.
“It’s often streamed online. You can watch it on the plane, you can watch it anywhere else but our theater.”
Lea is among independent theater owners across the country who say they are the last in line to buy movies. They say distributors tell them to wait until the bigger chains, mainly Cineplex Entertainment, are done with the movies, which independent exhibitors say is taking longer than ever and hurting their business.
“It often happens that we are not allowed to play a movie while that movie is already out for rent online,” said Wendy Huot, owner of the Screening Room in downtown Kingston, Ont.
Rachel Fox, who handles booking for the Rio, says distributors have told her that if a Cineplex anywhere in Vancouver is showing a movie, she can’t book it.
She says she asked about the movie. Elvis after it became available to stream on Ask and they told me no. She says the theater still can’t book Top Gun: Maverickwhich was released in May.
“Every Monday we have to send a distributor some kind of sheepish email asking if a movie has been approved at Cineplex, i.e. if the box office return was low enough over the weekend that something else made it happen.” is putting out of the game,” Fox said.
She says the theater will also pull movies if Cineplex becomes interested in them, often around Oscar season.
The financial pressures of the pandemic could have signaled a shift in how Cineplex approaches theatrical release, says Joseph Clark, an assistant professor of film at Simon Fraser University.
Independent theaters “have always had to wait until the big chain, Cineplex, is done with the big studio releases. But now they have to do that with big, successful festival movies, etc., which were always distributed by independent distributors.” .” Clark said.
Cineplex said in a recent statement that it has focused on “partnerships with non-traditional studios” and is running more “international products,” the kind of films that Clark said would have traditionally been shown in independent theaters.
Cineplex also said that its box office earnings as of September were 52 percent of those for the same month in 2019.
In Canada, Hollywood movies tend to be distributed by their studio: Warner Bros. made and runs Elvisfor example, while independent films often go to distributors based in Canada.
Several of those distributors, including Toronto-based Mongrel Media and Elevation Pictures, Warner, which runs everything everywhere at once in Canada, he declined to comment or did not respond to interview requests.
Cineplex declined an interview request. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “Ultimately it is up to the film distributors where to play their films.”
The company had 75 percent of the box office market share in 2019, according to a 2021 investor report, followed by Landmark Cinemas with 12 percent and Quebec chain Cinémas Guzzo with two percent. All other theaters combined totaled 11 percent.
Landmark CEO Bill Walker said in an email that his company is not asking for any limitations on where distributors play its movies.
A Canadian distributor executive is unaware of any pressure coming from Cineplex to prevent films from being shown in other theaters.
“There has never been, at least that I have witnessed, anything that is Cineplex or anyone else trying to take advantage of their place in the market,” said John Bain, LevelFILM’s head of acquisitions and distribution.
“Hey, but we live in the real world, and they have 75 percent of the theaters in Canada and you have to consider that when you’re making decisions.”
Bain says there are many reasons — proximity to other theaters, costs to the distributor — why a movie might play in only one theater in a given city. He admits that the shrinking turnaround time between theatrical and streaming movie releases adds to the challenges for independent theaters.
“The economics of independent film are a little more theatrically complicated these days to make money,” Bain said.
He says he is concerned about the health of independent theaters in the country.
“There’s a lot less than there used to be. They really support independent cinema and feature films,” he said. “It’s important to me that they’re healthy, but in the end they’re also making decisions that maximize their profits, including distributors and theaters.”
The Canadian Independent Exhibitors Network, an alliance of 79 independent theatres, including the Rio, complained about everything this to the Competition Office in March 2020, claiming that Cineplex has too dominant a position in the market, in violation of the Competition Act.
The office would not confirm whether it is investigating, citing legal obligations around confidentiality.
The nature of Canadian competition law makes it difficult to say whether there could be a successful legal case, says Jennifer Quaid, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa law school.
Determining whether a company has too much influence over a market is a “contextual assessment,” he said.
“There’s no definition that says it’s X percent of the market.”
Quaid also says that there aren’t many cases moving forward on abuse of domain and restrictive business practices, which makes it especially difficult to speculate on this case.
The number of theaters that could show a film used to be limited by the number of copies that existed, each of which had an associated cost. The distribution process is now digital, but Huot says distributors haven’t changed their practices.
She says she is willing to pay the same rates for movies as multiplexes, and would like to know what needs to happen for the Screening Room to have access to new releases.
“We’re not a second-run, discount theater, we’re just a second-run because we can’t be anything else,” he said.
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