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AMC Theaters Hit With Antitrust Suit Over Failure of Spanish-Language Cinema

A short-lived Spanish-language cinema in Houston is accusing AMC Theaters of using its market power to block it from getting studio licenses to show first-run movies.

In a lawsuit filed on Monday in a U.S. District Court in Houston, Viva Cinema Theaters said it went out of business just six months after opening when AMC threatened distributors that it would not show any of their first-run movies, English or Spanish, at one of its 30-screen theaters in Houston if they licensed to Viva.

Viva opened in spring 2013, but closed in November of that year.

“During the period of Viva Cinema’s operations, AMC infrequently showed some films in Spanish or with Spanish subtitles (during matinee and not evening showings), and then, once Viva Cinema went out of business, AMC went back to its prior practices of exhibiting no, or virtually no, Spanish-language films, and — if exhibiting them at all — only on an extremely limited basis,” Viva contends in the lawsuit.

Major studios are not named in the lawsuit, but Viva contends that they made agreements with AMC to prevent Viva from licensing titles like Paramount’s “World War Z,” The Walt Disney Co.’s “Iron Man 3,” Sony’s “Captain Phillips,” Universal’s “Fast & Furious 6,” Warner Bros.’ “The Conjuring” and Lionsgate’s “Red 2.”

“To survive economically, an exhibitor like Viva Cinema needs fair competitive access to first-run films,” Viva said in its lawsuit. “AMC’s demands for exclusivity had the effect of denying Viva Cinema the revenue it needed to stay in business.”

The lawsuit claims violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act, tortious interference and violations of a Texas antitrust law.

A spokesman for AMC said in a statement, “Allocated film zones are a long standing, well known and legal practice within the movie exhibition industry, and are determined on a case by case, zone by zone basis by individual studios, without consideration of the size of the exhibition companies. Viva Cinema clearly, and we assume knowingly, entered into an allocated film zone by opening a first-run location in close proximity to AMC Studio 30. “

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