Exhibition giants AMC and Regal Entertainment are joining the distribution game with Open Road Films, and while the new joint venture has its built-in advantages, the route to multiplexes is already getting crowded as FilmDistrict and Relativity Media have similar plans.

According to an announcement made early Monday, Open Road will focus on mid-range budgeted wide releases meant to fill a void left by studios now concentrating on tentpoles. Open Road plans to acquire titles with the aim of releasing eight to 10 pics per year; the first will come later this year.

The AMC-Regal distrib venture has been in the works for more than a year, and execs recently decided on a name before the official launch. At the helm is former Lions-gate and Weinstein Co. prexy of theatrical Tom Ortenberg, who will serve as Open Road CEO.

“If we do our job correctly in identifying films at lower costs, and then market and distribute effectively and cost efficiently, there’s a great opportunity to build a great business,” Ortenberg told Variety.

Ortenberg said the company plans to keep minimum guarantee costs and P&A commitments in line with other mid-size distribs, as well as capitalize on built-in exhib relations, not limited to AMC or Regal. Other advantages will present themselves to Open Road, such as cheaper print fees and preferred inhouse advertising.

And taking up a cause that has irked exhibs of late, Open Road is likely to follow traditional practice on theatrical windows.

“Regal and AMC are in a unique position to provide Open Road Films with strategic access to theatrical exhibition, enabling more great stories to reach the bigscreen,” Regal CEO Amy Miles said in a statement.

Ortenberg noted that Open Road is a 50-50 venture between AMC and Regal, with each footing the bill for its upcoming slate. Company will be based in L.A., employing up to 30 people.

AMC topper Gerry Lopez said, “As major studio releases have declined in recent years, Open Road Films will fill an important gap that exists in the market today.”

There are concerns, however, that with such direct ties to exhibition, the distrib could favor its product over those of other companies, particularly during nonsummer, nonholiday dates. With box office spread out more across the year, spring dates have become more crowded with product from smaller distribs such as Relativity and FilmDistrict, both of which entered the distribution game in the past year. And other like companies, including Summit and Lionsgate, produce and acquire mid-range budgeted pics pegged for wide berths.

The company’s mandate for pics with relatively modest budgets will require specialized marketing strategies. As one bizzer put it: “You have to put a lot of work into these movies. There’s a reason why they’re not with the majors.”

Ortenberg said exhibs still have room for more product. “My job is to keep my movie in the theater,” he said. “But ultimately, it all depends on the performance of our pictures.”