Exhibs: Thumbs down

DVD ban will hurt L.A. theater operators' holiday biz

ORLANDO, Fla. — L.A. exhibs attending the ShowEast trade show reacted with dismay to news of the Hollywood studios’ agreement Monday to nix mailings of Academy-consideration screening videos this year.

Theater operators in L.A., and to a lesser extent in Gotham, said a dramatically larger number of Academy members will use free passes to see Oscar contenders playing at their cinemas during the busy holiday season — taking seats away from paying customers.

“It’s definitely going to hurt me,” said Robert Bucksbaum, who operates the Crest Theater in Westwood. “Anyone who plays a film that’s going to get serious Academy consideration could easily lose 25% in revenue.”

Bucksbaum and others said they are sympathetic to studios’ anti-piracy fight, which is behind the move to do away with DVD and VHS screeners.

But they note the holiday season amounts to as much as 30% of an exhib’s annual box office take in some theaters, especially in locales like Westwood, with a high number of patrons favoring upmarket titles of the sort that figure in Oscar competish.

“So many people will want to use free passes that we’ll get hit hard in what is a really important season,” said another Westside L.A. exhib who requested anonymity, citing studio sensitivities. “It’s problematic, to be polite.”

Theater owners suggested some of the impact could be dampened by studios’ skedding increased numbers of Academy screenings in noncommercial venues and off-peak times in conventional theaters.

“But you can’t control when people will want to go to the theater,” one exhib said. “And most will want to go on the weekend.”

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