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Arm-twisting in Oz

Gov't threatens biz with tougher regs

GOLD COAST, Queensland — Australian exhibitors and distributors were warned Thursday to make their voluntary system of settling disputes work or face the prospect of regulation.

“Should problems persist then mandatory regulation may be the only alternative,” Ross Jones, a commissioner at watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission told the Australian Intl. Movie Convention.The ACCC is reviewing the 3-year-old film exhib-distrib code and aims to present its report to the government and code administration committee in about a month. That would give the government ample time to make legislative changes to the code if it believes regulation is needed before the federal election due at the end of this year.

Exhibiting concern

While major distribs and the three big circuits Village, Hoyts and Greater Union support the code, many indie exhibs — especially those in provincial towns — claim distribs demand excessively high rentals from rural cinemas that don’t get films until weeks after they debut in cities. They also say the distribs demand unrealistically long minimum seasons.

They have complained to the ACCC about the terms sought for some major films and have lobbied government ministers to make the code binding and to introduce sanctions.

“There is some evidence that minimum seasons have been increased. They should be falling rather than rising,” Jones said, citing the fast burnout of many titles in Oz (mirroring the U.S. pattern).

Jones acknowledged that if the code conciliator’s recommendations were made binding and sanctions were introduced, some form of appeal process would be needed.

While he was careful to say the ACCC had no role in deciding whether the code should be prescribed, he noted that the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and some European countries have regs that impose rules on seasons and session times.

It emerged at the convention, which runs through Saturday at the Royal Pines Resort, that the government is prepared to toughen the code if the industry can’t make it more effective in solving disputes.

Enforcement plan

The code committee’s annual report distributed here quotes Minister for Small Business Ian McFarlane as telling a recent meeting with the code committee, “The government will not hesitate to make the code mandatory if the government forms the view that the voluntary code is not working.”

Jones was asked if the ACCC still advocates the unrestricted importing of DVDs after similar reforms for CDs, despite assurances from Arts Minister Peter McGauran, who indicated he will tell the convention today that the government will exclude films and videos from its parallel import reforms ( Daily Variety, Aug. 14).

Jones’ answer was an unequivocal yes, saying the ACCC’s inquiry into DVD prices was sparked by the commission’s belief that the regional zoning system for DVDs enables distribs to extract anticompetitive prices.

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