After more than 70 years, the Paramount Consent Decrees are officially coming to an end, and the world of movie releases will never be the same. It’s a bit strange to consider the future of movie theaters right now since so many theaters remain closed due to the coronavirus, and their reopening remains in doubt. But if and when the virus is over and done with, theaters will be facing a strange new world.
Per THR and multiple sources, today “a New York federal judge granted a motion by the U.S. Department of Justice to terminate the movie industry’s long-lasting licensing rules.” So what are the Paramount Consent Decrees? In the late 1930s, the Justice Department took the major movie studios to court under the charge that studios had way too much power over the industry. Back then, studios were free to own movie theaters, and, as a result, run them however they saw fit – A.K.A., screening only their movies and shutting everyone else out.
In 1948, the government’s case succeeded, and studios had to give up ownership of movie theaters. The case also made several practices illegal: block booking (bundling multiple films into one theatre license), circuit dealing (entering into one license that covered all theaters in a theater circuit), resale price maintenance (setting minimum prices on movie tickets), and granting over-broad clearances (exclusive film licenses for specific geographic areas).
But now that’s all over. So what does this mean for the movie industry? While there are a few positives, most industry insiders who don’t work for studios agree that things look a little bleak for non-blockbusters. Sure, some studios have still been able to purchase theaters– Disney owns the El Capitan in Hollywood– but those purchases required court proceedings. That’s no longer the case. Now, more studios have the power to buy up movie theaters and completely lock out smaller independent films.
As a 2018 Forbes article states, smaller studios might now be forced to “cut back their release schedules, fearing a lack of available screens for their smaller titles, thereby limiting the choices that moviegoers have when they head to their local multiplexes,” and also suggested that “there will be no system of checks and balances to prevent a studio from selling blocks of films sight unseen, as was the case in the early days of Hollywood.”
An article from Polygon adds that “It will be more and more likely that new indies can only make it into theaters through established companies, if not the giants of Netflix and Amazon.” In short, the one thing keeping humongous studios like Disney from seizing complete control of the theatrical industry is now kaput, and while that’s good news if all you want out of movies are big Marvel blockbusters, it’s bad news for the sake of art, and variety.
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