Can Anschutz alter exhib-studio game?

Studios may share wealth sooner

HOLLYWOOD — Financier Philip Anschutz’s sudden dominance of U.S. exhibition could trigger a reshaping of formulas used by exhibs and distribs to split box office revenue.

Exhibs suffered when this summer’s movies opened big but dropped dramatically in their second weeks. That’s because exhibs get skimpy cuts of B.O. in early weeks of a pic’s release and bigger splits only later.

As a result, studios may share the wealth sooner next summer.

“We’re taking a look at our formulas with an eye toward that,” a top distrib exec allows. “It’s not that we just wanna be nice guys, it’s simply in our interest to see that our partners in exhibition stay in business.”

Against this backdrop, some say Anschutz may push for an even more dramatic reshaping of the so-called film-rental formulas.

“Anschutz could change the rules of the game and move toward something like a 50-50 box office split across the board,” suggests David Davis, a senior veep and analyst at Houlihan, Lokey, Howard & Zukin.

“That would solve the potential problem from movies’ dropping off in their second week.”

But distribs, though allowing sympathy for exhibs’ plight, say it’s unlikely Anschutz can simply bully his way into cheaper film rentals.

Longstanding anticollusion rules stipulate film rentals must be negotiated theater by theater, nixing any chance for a volume discount based on any single exhib’s screen-count clout.

But some believe that, one way or another, the industry will see some seismic shifts.

“This is the time for an exhibitor like Anschutz to stake a claim in the battle of film rentals,” Houlihan Lokey’s Davis says. “Studios and exhibitors are spending all kinds of resources calculating all sorts of different splits each week. So, at the end of the day, it’s in everybody’s interest to make it a simpler process.”

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