Obstacles to Showing Films

Whether you’re a seasoned film exhibitor, or are learning about Canada’s unique film exhibition landscape for the first time: We have answers for you!

What is the state of film exhibition in Canada?

Cineplex represents 75% of Canadian cinema market share (source: Rentrak).

How do we compare to other countries? (Is this normal?)

Cineplex’s presence in the Canadian market represents one of the largest concentrated holdings of cinemas in a single country worldwide.

Independent cinemas make up a larger part of market share in many other countries. For example, 31% of market share by revenue in Australia is earned by independent cinemas (source: MPDAA); in Canada it’s less than 13% (source: Rentrak 2019 calendar).

Australia’s largest company, Event Cinemas, has 28.7% of market share based on revenue (2017). (Source: MPDAA)

The Screening Room, Kingston, ON.

The UK’s largest company, Cineworld, has 24% of market share based on revenue (2018). (Source: Statista 2020)

The US’s largest company, AMC, has 26% of market share based on revenue (2019). (Source: NATO / Mass Communications and Media Studies: An Introduction)

Cineplex has 75% of Canadian cinema market share.
Compare: US largest chain: 26%; UK: 24%; Australia: 28%.

Sources: Rentrak/Comscore, MPDAA, Statista 2020, NATO

How does Cineplex impact the way movies are shown in Canada?

Slower access to films. Since independents need to clear first run cinemas, our access to these films takes longer.

Less availability of films. Multiplexes often ask for exclusivity when opening a film, limiting the choice of where moviegoers may see a film. If independent cinemas had broader access to films, this would result in movies being played on more screens, which in turn would result in higher attendance and box office gross, and increased choice for audiences.

Fewer film options. The number of screens a film is available on dictates marketing spend. If Cineplex is unwilling to open a film, or limits its release to a small number of cinemas, that will greatly impact the viability of a film. Poor first run showings impacts screening of films later on. Cineplex doesn’t open many Canadian, independent and foreign films. One company is, in essence, choosing films for 75% of filmgoers. If there was more fair competition among Canadian cinemas, the variety of available films would increase.

Acting as a film distributor. Cineplex has begun distributing films in Canada through Cineplex Events. They have established an exclusivity period for their own cinemas before releasing films to others. Cineplex is also involved in distributing Lionsgate films in Canada. This sort of vertical industry integration presents a further concern. Read more.

Independent cinemas’ access to films is largely dictated by Cineplex.

Cineworld is buying Cineplex. What will this change? 

UK-based corporation Cineworld, which currently owns the Regal chain in the US, will be the largest cinema chain in North America if this acquisition is allowed to go through.

This is going to further impact customers and independent cinemas negatively through: 

Job losses. Cineworld has already publicly stated that they expect to lay off Cineplex employees. This could also result in further layoffs at Canadian distribution companies as they move to outsource and downsize.

Less Canadian cinema. If Cineworld acquires Cineplex, 87% of Canadian theatrical box office will go to foreign-owned companies. (Landmark Cinemas is owned by a Belgian company.) With no Canadian content quotas or protected interests, and given Cineplex’s number of screens, this likely means even fewer Canadian films will open nationally.

A bigger company. With this acquisition, Cineworld will take over Cineplex’s screens in Canada, and become North America’s largest cinema chain. This gives them more power to dictate to distributors and government how the Canadian cinema industry should work.

If Cineworld’s acquisition of Cineplex goes through, 87% of Canadian theatrical box office will go to foreign-owned companies.

Why can’t you just show old films?

We’re not asking to exclusively show new films. We are asking for fair access to the market of films that we know our audience will enjoy.

Independent cinemas show films for their audience, and those choices often differ from that of a multiplex. For example, the top grossing films of 2019 were:

Total Box Office in the Canada (source: Comscore)

  1. Avengers: Endgame
  2. The Lion King
  3. Captain Marvel
  4. Frozen 2
  5. Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

Independent Cinemas in the US (source: Art House Convergence survey)

  1. Parasite
  2. Downton Abbey
  3. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
  4. Jojo Rabbit
  5. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

The majority of our revenue comes from new films. Although theatres which show exclusively older films exist across North America, this is not a feasible business model for the majority of independent cinemas. We know this because the audience isn’t large enough for repertory films to sustain our current businesses.

Repertory films are becoming harder to book as some distributors limit access. Read more.

Cineplex has an “events” arm that dictates availability of a number of repertory titles.

Independent cinemas show films for their audience, and those choices often differ from that of a multiplex.

What is a ‘zone’ or ‘clearance’?

It’s a geographic boundary used to allocate films. Within this boundary second run cinemas must wait until first run cinemas have completed their play of a film.

‘Zones’ are rarely made explicit in writing or by email; rather, distributors will relay to independent exhibitors the booking rules that the distributors must abide by.

‘Zones’ are decided upon inconsistently and enforced arbitrarily—for example, they are not decided upon based on a set population density or distance between cinemas⁠—and irrespective of how long a film has been playing, or how much money a film is grossing.

‘Zone’ mapping seems to change on a whim and at the expense of independent cinemas; many independent exhibitors have recent examples of when a film had ‘cleared’ the Cineplex in their ‘Zone,’ only to be told that it couldn’t be booked because it was playing at a different Cineplex in a different ‘Zone.’

‘Zone’ mapping seems to change on a whim and at the expense of independent cinemas.

Why do cinema goers attend independent cinemas?

66% of indie cinema audiences in the US say that their local cinema is “extremely or very valuable to their overall way of life.” (Source: Art House Convergence 2019 National Audience Survey)

Independent cinemas support the existence of smaller film festivals that expand the number and variety of films available to local audiences.

Independent cinemas offer a different experience to their customers, catering their programming and offerings to local residents. A one size fits all approach to moviegoing doesn’t make sense. Films should be placed at the cinema whose target demographic matches the film’s.

Independent cinemas offer a curated film selection which includes independent, arthouse and classic films. Independent theatres rely on new releases to remain sustainable and thereby make more specialized programming available to their communities.

Allowing independents to play newer films alongside Cineplex theatres would increase the overall gross of films, strengthening the film industry and offering more choice to audiences served by their local independent cinema. Limiting when independents can play newer films does a disservice to the film industry and audiences alike. Independent cinemas often provide accommodations for film-goers with different needs. Many independent cinemas offer accessibility, pricing, selection and location that audiences would prefer.

Independent cinemas often support other local businesses and communities through partnerships, programming and concession offerings, and many audiences prefer, if given the choice, to ‘buy local’ and support their communities with their dollars.

66% of indie cinema audiences in the US said their local cinema is “extremely or very valuable to their overall way of life.”

Art House Convergence 2019 National Audience Survey

Why raise this issue now?

The acquisition of Cineplex by Cineworld will continue and likely worsen the behaviour which is threatening the survival of Canadian independent cinemas. It’s crucial that independent exhibitors and audiences raise concerns now and before it’s too late.

With the overall number of film releases decreasing, the situation for independent cinemas is worsening.

Cineplex has begun distributing films in Canada. This hurts the viability of Canadian independent distributors and cinemas.

Public awareness: it’s important that audiences know how their choices are being restricted, and are likely to become even more so.

News Beat

Canadian filmmakers fret Cineplex sale could diminish support for homegrown films
The Globe & Mail // March 4, 2020

Independent theatres across Canada rally for better access to films
(Video Segment)
City News 1130 // March 3, 2020

Independent theatres in a David vs Goliath battle versus Cineplex
CTV News Calgary // February 27, 2020

Independent movie theatres facing more roadblocks
Lethbridge Herald // February 27, 2020

‘Zoning’ problem leads Halifax indie cinema to join complaint against Cineplex
CBC News Nova Scotia // February 25, 2020

From CBC News

“It’s sad to me that the government didn’t step in to support the protection of this venue,” she said. “Once you lose your cinemas, it’s really difficult to get them back.”

Indie cinemas accuse Cineplex of monopolizing new releases
NOW Toronto // February 21, 2020

From Now Toronto

“I remember one distributor telling me that when he would tell Cineplex he was going to play at Lightbox they would say to him, ‘Okay. I hope Jesse can book you in Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary as well,’ ” he wrote. “The implied threat that they wouldn’t take the movie in those places if it played with us.”

Movie market monopoly: Apollo Cinema joins fight against Cineplex
CTV News Kitchener // February 21, 2020

Apollo Cinema joins petition to fight monopolies in film industry
Kitchener Today // February 21, 2020

Call It the Cineplex Squeeze
Vancouver International Film Festival // February 21, 2020

Les cinémas indépendants se plaignent des comportements de Cineplex
les affaires // February 21, 2020

Cineplex accused of blocking independent theatres from screening popular films
The Globe & Mail / The Canadian Press // February 20, 2020

From The Globe & Mail

“…if a distributor tries to book a film with an indie theatre anywhere near a Cineplex location, the cinema giant will threaten to pull their own screenings of that film in the area, spooking distributors into shutting out smaller theatres.”

Les cinémas indépendants se plaignent des comportements anticoncurrentiels de Cineplex
Radio-Canada // February 20, 2020

Cineplex accused of ‘a cartoon villain level of nefarious behaviour’
CBC Metro Morning // February 19, 2020

More Evil From Theater Chain Cineplex And The Attempt To Stop Them
John Campea // February 19, 2020

Paradise Theatre claims Cineplex stops them showing new movies
Daily Hive Toronto // February 19, 2020

The Rio Theatre says Cineplex is preventing it from showing new movies
Daily Hive Vancouver // February 19 2020

Why Paradise can’t show new movies
Paradise on Bloor // February 18, 2020

A Vancouver Indie Theatre Is Striking Back Against Cineplex’s “Movie Monopoly”
Narcity // February 18, 2020

Rio Theatre takes on Cineplex for its monopoly of the movie market
CTV News Vancouver // February 17, 2020

Independent cinemas accuse Cineplex of shutting them out of market for top films
CBC News British Columbia // February 15, 2020

From CBC News

“Fortin and others say distributors don’t tell them in writing that Cineplex won’t let them provide films to their theatre, but they admit it over the phone or let it slip over drinks.” 

Tanner Zipchen speaks out on former Cineplex gig, says at first all he got were Scene points
Toronto Star // February 15, 2020

Vancouver’s Rio Theatre pushes back against Cineplex
News 1130 // February 13, 2020

Vancouver’s Rio Theatre launches petition
Radio NL // February 13, 2020

Vancouver’s Rio Theatre Launches Petition to “Stop Cineplex from Crushing Indie Theatres”
Exclaim! // February 11, 2020