Changes To Movie Antitrust Laws Could Hurt Harkins Theatres

By Julian Hernandez
Published: Friday, November 22, 2019 - 9:47pm
Updated: Tuesday, November 26, 2019 - 11:11am

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In the 1948 U.S. Supreme Court antitrust case United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. et al., the court found that the major movie studios of the day were engaging in unfair practices that violated antitrust laws.

In the resulting settlements between the courts and movie studios, the studios agreed to several rules and regulations which all together became known as the Paramount Decrees.

Practices such as block booking, where movie studios packaged their lesser films with their major releases and forced independent movie theaters to show those less attractive films, were outlawed.

In 2018, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division announced they would begin reviewing the consent decrees put in place by the Supreme Court as part of a larger review of more than a thousand antitrust cases.

During the 60-day public comment period, several movie theater chains and movie theater organizations filed comments asking the Department of Justice not to terminate the protections provided under the decrees.

exterior of harkins theatre
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Harkins Theatre at Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix.

The Arizona-based movie theater chain Harkins Theatres filed a public comment against the move, writing that practices such as block booking “has anti-competitive effects not only on independent exhibitors but also on independent distributors and consumer moviegoers as well.”

Jason Squire is a professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and he said the termination of the rules won’t help independent theaters.

“Movie theaters today have a really tough go of it,” Squire said.

Several factors such as the changing ways that Americans have access to films, such as streaming and on-demand services, have already put the movie theater industry in a tight spot.

“Consumers have many more choices outside of the movie theater which is a real series of stresses and exhibitions. So why create a new one?” Squire said.

While the Department of Justice has announced their desire to terminate the rules, any changes must be approved by a judge before they go into effect.

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