Arbitrator rules for Reading in its battle with Oz distribs

Dispute seen as part of bigger campaign to shut out cinema company

SYDNEY — U.S.-owned Reading Cinemas has won a long-standing battle with Australian distribs over the supply of firstrun product to its downtown Sydney cinema.

All major Oz distribs have refused to give new films to Reading’s Market City five-plex since it opened in November 1998, claiming it’s located too close to the multiplexes operated by the Big Three exhibs (Village, Hoyts and Greater Union) and that it wasn’t viable to supply prints.

The dispute was seen as part of a wider campaign by the major chains to try and shut out Reading, which sought to build cinemas in other capital cities and towns, some of which would compete with the incumbents.

Reading execs brought cases against the distribs to the film industry’s self-regulating code of conduct committee, which referred them to independent mediator David Newton.

That process is supposed to be confidential, but sources said that last week Newton delivered his recommendations on the first two cases involving 20th Century Fox and Roadshow Film Distributors (the Oz distrib of Warner Bros. and New Line).

It’s believed that Newton found the distribs had not treated Reading “fairly and equitably” and deemed they should supply firstrun films to Market City, which has had to get by with moveover product.

None of the parties is commenting, but the distribs have been given 14 days to respond to Newton’s recommendations.

Reading will open a 10-plex in the Sydney suburb of Auburn on Thursday, bringing its national loop to 81 screens.

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