in April, Everywhere all at once was released in theaters nationwide starring Michelle Yeoh. 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 book the film for the first time.
Owner Corinne Lee says these wait times are getting longer.
Theaters like hers used to receive such films within two or three weeks of their initial release, she says.
“Now it’s six months to a year,” she told CBC News.
“It’s mostly streaming online. You can watch it on the plane, you can watch it everywhere other than our theater.”
Lea is among independent theater owners across the country who say they are the last in line to get the films. They say distributors tell them they have to wait until the big chains — mainly Cineplex Entertainment — finish movies, which indie exhibitors say is taking longer than ever and hurting their business.
“It often happens that we’re not allowed to play a movie when it’s already been released for online rental,” said Wendy Huth, owner of Screening Room in downtown Kingston, Ont.
Rachel Fox, who handles bookings for the Rio, says she’s been told by distributors that any Cineplex in Vancouver can’t book the film if it’s playing.
She said she asked about the film Elvis After it becomes available to stream longing And said no. She says that the theater has not been booked yet Top Gun: Maverickwhich was released in May.
“Every Monday we have to send a kind of sheep email to the distributor asking if a film has cleared the Cineplex, meaning if the weekend box office returns were low enough that others are taking it out of the game,” Fox said.
She says movies are also pulled into theaters if Cineplex shows interest in them, often around Oscar season.
The financial pressures of the pandemic may have marked a shift in how Cineplex is releasing theatrical releases, says Joseph Clark, assistant professor of film at Simon Fraser University.
Independent theaters “have had to wait until the big chains, the Cineplex, the big studio releases. But now they have to get those big, successful festival films and so on, distributed by independent distributors,” Clark said.
Cineplex said in a recent statement that it is focusing on “partnering with non-traditional studios” and moving more “international production” — films that Clark said would have traditionally played in independent theaters.
Cineplex also said its box office revenue from September was 52 percent of the same month of 2019.
In Canada, Hollywood films are distributed by their studios – created and handled by Warner Bros. ElvisFor example – while independent films often go to Canadian-based distributors.
Many of those distributors — including Warner, Toronto-based Mongrel Media and Elevation Pictures — which handle Everywhere all at once in Canada – declined to comment or did not respond to interview requests.
Cineplex declined an interview request. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “Ultimately, it’s up to movie distributors where they play their movies.”
According to the 2021 Investor Report, the company’s box office market share in 2019 was 75 percent, followed by Landmark Cinemas at 12 percent and Quebec chain Cinemas Gujo at 2 percent. All other theaters accounted for 11 percent of the total.
Landmark CEO Bill Walker said in an email that his company does not request any limits on where distributors play their movies.
An executive at the Canadian distributor is not aware of any pressure from Cineplex to not play the films in other theaters.
“There’s never been — at least, that I’ve ever seen — Cineplex or anyone else trying to take advantage of their position in the market,” said John Bain, LevelFILM’s head of acquisitions and distribution.
“Hey, but we live in the real world, and they own 75 percent of the theaters in Canada and you have to consider that when you make a decision.”
Bain says there are many reasons — proximity to other theaters, cost to the distributor — why a movie might play in only one theater in a given city. He acknowledges that the increasingly short turnaround between a film’s theatrical and streaming releases adds to the challenges for independent theaters.
“The economics of independent film are dramatically more difficult to make money these days,” Bain said.
He said that he is concerned about the health of independent cinema halls in the country.
“There are a lot less than there used to be. They’re really kind of independent films and feature films,” he said. “It’s important to me that they’re healthy, but at the end of the day all stakeholders are making decisions to maximize their profits, including distributors and theaters.”
The Network of Independent Canadian Exhibitors, an alliance of 79 independent theatres, including the Rio; Everyone complained This March 2020 to the Competition Bureau, alleging that Cineplex has a very dominant position in the market in violation of the Competition Act.
The bureau would not confirm whether it was investigating, citing legal obligations around confidentiality.
The nature of Canada’s 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’s Faculty of Law.
Determining whether a company has over leveraged the market is a “relevant assessment,” she said.
“There’s no definition that it’s X percent of the market.”
Kyd also says that there are not many cases that proceed to abuse of dominance and restrictive trade practices, which makes it difficult to speculate in this case in particular.
The number of theaters that could show a film was limited by the number of existing prints, each of which had a cost associated with it. 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 films as multiplexes, and wants to know what the screening room needs to be for access to new releases.
“We’re not discounted, second-run theater, we’re only second-run because we can’t be anything else,” she said.