Distributors and theater owners alike will be keeping a close eye on Southern California this weekend as Edwards Theatres Circuit cuts the ribbon on its 22-theater Ontario complex in San Bernardino County.
In one of the most talked-about moves in exhibition this year, Edwards today is opening its 122,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art megaplex directly across the street from AMC’s 4-month-old Ontario Mills 30.
Both Edwards and AMC execs have expressed confidence that the mall, located at the busy intersection of the 10 and 15 freeways, will support the theaters’ 52 combined screens.
But others have questioned the wisdom of sinking an estimated $25 million into building a first-class megaplex just a stone’s throw from a successful competitor.
“The AMC theater is knock-’em-dead, consistently ranking in the top 10 or 20 theaters on whatever film they’re showing,” said a distributor. “But do you need two theaters, with 52 screens?”
Some distribution execs have expressed fears that the competition, particularly in cases where the same film opens in both theaters, could result in lower rental fees. Others see the potential for a price war between the competitors, which also could result in lower returns to the studios.
As it stands, both Edwards and AMC charge $6.75 for adult admission, $4.75 for students and $3.75 for children. In the event that one or both exhibitors decides to slash admission prices, distribs have the option of sell-ing pictures on a “per capita” basis, collecting a fixed amount per patron.
So far, most of the majors are allocating product to one theater or the other on a picture-by-picture basis. But Uni-versal, New Line and Miramax have chosen to open their films “day and date” at both theaters. This weekend, for instance, U’s Jim Carrey starrer “Liar Liar” makes its debut in both houses.
“Sony sees no reason to play two theaters across the street from one another,” said Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing. “We think that product is the one special ingredient in the success of any theater, and we think in this case it’s appropriate that they compete for it.”
But Nikki Rocco, Universal president of distribution, said that the studio has nothing to lose by going day and date in both theaters.
“I’m not thrilled that they built in such close proximity, but these are both good customers, and I’m trying to help them survive,” said Rocco. “We gave them each only two prints, whereas we would have given one theater four on a picture this big.”
Edwards VP of advertising and promotion Don Barton doesn’t believe the Ontario 22’s location outside the mall will be a deterrent to moviegoers. “It’s not far of a walk if you’re already parked in the mall,” he said. “Anyway, I’ve heard people say they can’t find a parking place in the mall.”
Dick Walsh, AMC senior VP, west division, sees the Ontario Mills 30’s location as a key advantage: “It’s easier for our customer to go to one of the many eating facilities in the mall. People don’t like to get back in their car to drive somewhere.”