US cinemas block Netflix movie plan

As reported yesterday, Netflix has teamed with giant cinema-screen operator IMAX and the Weinstein studio to make a follow-up to martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – with the deal seeing Netflix stream the movie on the same day as its theatrical release.

But the plan started to fall apart on September 30th when the four largest distribution chains (AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike) all pledged not to screen the movie next year. The problem also directly affects IMAX in that the quartet of cinema chains also directly own 257 of IMAX’s 418 screens in the US. Worse, Canada’s largest cinema chain, Cineplex, joined in the protest as did Europe’s second-largest chain, Cineworld.

The future for the movie is now unclear. IMAX could still show the film in its remaining 161 theatres – and no doubt do good business – but the larger problem is for the cinemas to come to terms with the impact that Netflix is having on production. The agreement greatly disrupts Hollywood’s normal ‘window’ release pattern, and with Netflix financing a large part of the movie’s budget, they can be expected to want an early ‘window’.

Helping IMAX’s plan is that by next year,  it will have some 200 screens in China –where Netflix doesn’t operate.

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