Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Major Theater Chains Face Investigations Into Anti-Trust Violations

4/17/15 - Competition is a necessary part of economics. Without competition, a company or group of companies could gain control of a market and charge outrageous prices for goods and services, against which consumers may have no recourse. When competitors arise, such companies are forced to lower prices since consumers will be able to choose. As supply increases, prices must decrease, or the companies risk allowing demand to decrease.

A monopoly is when a single company gains complete control of a market or commodity. A cartel is when a group of companies have control over the market and agree among themselves on what prices to set. A trust is a group of companies that work together to force other, usually smaller, companies out of the market. Each of these is regulated by the federal government and is prevented as much as possible, so as to allow smaller companies the ability to be economically competitive. In his article, Richard Verrier looks into recent investigations into anti-trust violations by several major movie theater chains like AMC, Regal, and Cinemark.

Many complaints and lawsuits have been filed over the years by owners of smaller theaters, who claim that the major theaters have been involved in a practice called “clearance,” in which the smaller theaters are prevented from playing newly released movies. Is this practice considered a violation of anti-trust laws, though? While a Supreme Court decision in 1948 required that movie studios give up ownership in movie theaters, larger theaters still have the financial clout necessary to have some control over where popular movies will be played first.

Thus, the Department of Justice's anti-trust division has been spurred into action in an attempt to determine if clearances are against federal law. To the large chains, it's simply a matter of economic reasoning. The film studios have the supply, and the movie theaters have the demand. If a company like AMC wants a specific movie from the studio, it will effectively be providing more revenue to the studio, because the purchase of the film will involve hundreds of theaters across the country, while the purchase by a small company like IPic Entertainment will only involve a dozen or so. The studio will be more willing to give in to AMC's requests, because AMC provides more business.

With the Department of Justice on the case, we can assume that the matter will eventually be settled. The conclusion of this argument, however, could mean big things for small businesses. If the DoJ concludes that the major theater companies are not breaking any laws, then the small companies will be at a distinct disadvantage. If the DoJ rules that the major companies are breaking anti-trust laws through the use of clearances, then governmental entities may get more involved in economic issues that are out of their jurisdiction. What will it come down to: the natural order of economics, or the imposed order of government regulation?

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