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New rules irk Oz distribs

ACCC to stop charging provincial theaters

SYDNEY — Major distributors are vowing to fight the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s attempt to regulate film hire rates.

Privately, several say they will go to court to challenge the consumer watchdog’s right to set terms paid by country cinemas. The ACCC wants to end the practice of charging provincial theaters first-week rates (usually 55% of the gross) for films that often are not available until weeks after their city debut.

The other sticking point is a four-week cap on minimum sessions at cinemas with fewer than four screens after which distribs could not make any demands on the number of sessions or length of run. Several execs say this makes no allowance for arthouse films or other platformed titles.

“This is unlegislated dictatorship of how we do our business,” one distrib said Thursday. If those changes were implemented, the exec said he would release films on 120 prints rather than 250, cutting out many rural cinemas, and shorten the window between theatrical and homevideo release.

The ACCC has put forward 35 recommendations following its review of the 3-year-old voluntary code of conduct of film exhibition and distribution (Daily Variety, Oct. 3).

They will be considered by the code administration committee repping major and indie distribs and exhibs Oct. 25. The members of the committee must unanimously agree to any amendment to the code — a remote prospect judging by the mood gauged by Daily Variety.

ACCC commissioner Ross Jones has said he expects responses from the industry by the end of this month — a timetable that angers some distribs.

“We need to get legal opinions in Australia and from attorneys at the studios (in L.A.),” said one exec. “That doesn’t happen quickly or cheaply.”

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