With the global pandemic, movie theatres, like many businesses have been forced to shut down. People were advised to stay at home, and only leave the house for essentials. So trips to the cinema weren’t included. As the pandemic has gone on, some smaller businesses have unfortunately had to close for good. Many surviving businesses will likely take time to recover. A recent report indicated that AMC Theatres could be seeking a buyer. AMC also owns the Odeon chain in the UK. The potential buyer? Amazon. Yes that Amazon.
So could Amazon really own a cinema chain? And what would that mean for cinemas?
What’s this all about?
Streaming services have been invaluable while everyone is in lockdown, and Prime has been a heavy hitter for a while. Especially in the UK, which didn’t get Disney+ until a few months ago. Amazon Prime has the added benefit of additional discounts from the main site. It also lets users rent and purchase many films, even if they don’t have prime, unlike most other services.
With cinemas closed, many studios have had to either delay big films or release them on demand. The pandemic has cemented the influence of streaming services, and many people are asking what the future holds for cinemas. With streaming being easier and often cheaper, audiences may not be as inclined to visit cinemas anymore, except for “event” films such as “Tenet”. The latest trailer confirmed it would be “only in theatres”.
Why does it matter?
So Amazon has a successful streaming service and want to buy a cinema chain. This is good for Amazon, as they could give their original content theatrical releases. Existing Prime customers could also get additional perks. But what about cinemas they don’t own? Could we start seeing some releases exclusive to some cinemas? Amazon has had success with original films like “The Big Sick” and “Manchester By The Sea“. Although the Oscars temporarily allow films streamed digitally to be eligible, traditionally they need a theatrical release. Although they have started to move away from this, like most streaming services. Netflix had a big exception with Scorsese’s “The Irishman“, which had a limited theatrical run so that it qualified for Oscars. This would allow them to release a film on their streaming service for subscribers, while also being awards friendly.
If Amazon did this, it’s likely other streaming services would follow suit. Disney is a likely contender. Along with Universal, they have been less concerned with cinemas, releasing films soon after theatrical releases. If these studios begin buying up cinemas, they could have the best of both worlds. Many cinema chains are refusing to show Universal movies if they continue ignoring the theatrical window. This could potentially lead to a scenario where huge franchises are only available in certain cinemas. You could watch Fast and Furious 9 at your local, but then have to travel to a Disney owned chain for the new Star Wars. Imagine the streaming wars, but with actual cinemas!
How bad would this be?
This would actually be a step backwards. Back in the 1920’s studios not only owned the theatres but had exclusive contracts with actors and directors. This meant that they could only work for that studio for the duration. and created a monopoly on the industry. During a two-decade-long court case independent producers, like Orson Welles and (ironically) Disney fought to end the practice. Eventually succeeding, the Supreme Court managed to end the practice of block booking in 1948. Although some argue those rules are no longer needed, meaning we could see a return to this model…
This would give studios complete control over films, with potentially much more “studio interference“. Director’s Cut’s would be very hard to produce as they would now be tangled up in rights issues. It would also be much harder for directors or actors to leave a project or refuse one.
Luckily, it seems like these talks may just be rumours, as neither company has confirmed they are actually happening, but if it did happen, it could be very bad news for everyone but the studios.