Antitrust Complaint on Spanish-Dubbed Films

           HOUSTON (CN) – AMC Entertainment drove a Houston competitor out of business by blocking its plan to show first-run movies dubbed in Spanish, Viva Cinema claims in a federal antritrust lawsuit.
     AMC used its market power to stop distributors from licensing films in Spanish to Viva, the lawsuit claims.
     “AMC owns, operates, or holds interests in approximately 342 theaters with a total of 4,968 screens. Measured by number of screens, AMC is the second-largest theater exhibitor in the United States,” Viva says in its April 20 complaint.
     Viva says that because AMC rarely shows movies dubbed in Spanish or with Spanish subtitles at AMC’s Dunvale Road theater in Houston, Viva decided to open one three miles away and show movies for Houston’s “underserved” Hispanic population.
     Forty-four percent of Houstonians are Hispanic, according to the 2010 Census.
     Viva worked out deals to license first-run films with distributors for seven major Hollywood studios in the summer of 2012, and began renovating a theater in southwest Houston.
     It opened its eight-screen theater in May 2013. Besides showing movies in Spanish, Viva gave its theater a “Latin flair” by offering in-theater dining, selling beer and wine, and including a sports cantina and a large video game room and family party area, Viva says.
     Viva also had its target demographic’s income in mind.
     “Tickets were $7 at Viva Cinema versus $10 at AMC’s Studio 30 for the majority of show times. Similarly, popcorn was and soft drinks were approximately $2 and $0.50 cheaper, respectively, at Viva Cinema,” the complaint states.
     AMC couldn’t stomach Viva’s upstart theater and threw its weight around with the movie distributors, Viva says.
     AMC told the distributors that it wouldn’t show any first run film, in English or Spanish, at its Dunvale Road theater if the distributor licensed the film in Spanish to Viva, Viva says.
     “AMC’s threats were successful,” the complaint states.
     “Although Viva Cinema commenced operations in the spring of 2013, it went out of business in November 2013 because AMC successfully employed its market power to block Viva Cinema, over a six month period, from licensing any first-run Spanish language film during the film’s initial three week run except ‘Planes,’ which – consistent with its threat – AMC refused to show at AMC Dunvale.”
     Viva says that while it was in business, AMC “infrequently showed some films in Spanish or with Spanish subtitles” at its Dunvale outlet, but once Viva folded AMC went back to showing “virtually no Spanish language films” there.
     AMC did not respond to a request for comment.
     Although AMC is the only defendant, the lawsuit calls the movie distributors AMC’s “co-conspirators,” and alleges they too committed antitrust violations.
     Viva’s attorney Michael Hawash told Courthouse News: “Adding the distributors to the lawsuit has not been ruled out.”
     Viva seeks treble damages for tortious interference and violations of the Sherman Act and the Texas Free Enterprise and Antitrust Act of 1983.
     Hawash said it’s too early to put a figure on Viva’s damages and that experts will be hired to determine its lost profits.
     With Viva out of business, Houston’s Spanish speakers have nowhere to see the latest Hollywood blockbusters in their native tongue, Viva says.
     The Justice Department’s antitrust division is investigating AMC and two other theater chains, Regal and Cinemark, according to the Los Angeles Times.
     “The probe centers on a longstanding business practice known as ‘clearances,’ in which theaters seek to ‘clear’ certain markets, ensuring rivals in proximity cannot play new releases at the same time,” the Times reported last week.

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