Spanish exhibs ready attack on majors

FECE says Hollywood studios are still fixing prices

SITGES, Spain — The Spanish Exhibitors Federation (FECE) is readying legal action against the subbranches of the Hollywood studios in Spain, accusing them of continuing past practices of cartel price-fixing.

The charge has to be taken seriously. In May, Spain’s anticompetition authorities slapped a E12 million ($15.3 million) fine on the U.S. studios’ distrib ops in Spain, finding them guilty of cartel practices and other abuses of dominant position. Move came after FECE lodged a complaint with Spain’s Competition Defense Tribunal in 2003.

FECE claims that, despite the tribunal’s findings in May, the majors have continued to coordinate prices on big film releases in Spain. Furthermore, the studios’ cut on big pic releases is 10 percentage points higher than elsewhere in Europe, the org alleged.

Unless things change, FECE said, it will file another complaint against the majors with Spain’s anticompetition authorities.

Spain distributors body Fedicine, which reps the majors and larger indies, could not be reached for comment.

FECE’s members include all of Spain’s bigger exhibitors. Its faceoff with Hollywood comes as conditions toughen for the exhib sector. With an ever-increasing percentage of B.O. taken by one or two tentpole movies, which are usually distributed by the majors, the U.S. studios are acquiring ever greater market muscle in Spain.

The studios’ box office share stood at 81% in 2004 and has reached 79% through September.

Also, over the past five years, per-screen returns have almost halved in Spain, plunging from 38,942 in 2001 to 21,125 and putting pressure on exhibitors’ already slim profit margins.

(Emilio Mayorga contributed to this report.)

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