Or maybe not. The news today -- a merger between AMC and Loews Cineplex to create the second largest exhibitor in the nation -- is especially major for New York. Loews is the oldest theater chain in the country, started in New York by Marcus Loew in 1904. The new company will apparently be called "AMC Entertainment." My guess is that, maybe not right away but before too long, just as Regal Entertainment slowly but surely rid its chain of complexes bearing the United Artists name. (In fact, if you go to the Regal Battery Park 11, you can still see on the building banners bears the old "United Artists Battery Park 11.")
OK, so Loews may not be the same as it was when huge movie palaces like the Loew's State on Broadway (now a Virgin Megastore with a small fourplex of discount movie theaters underground) used to host all the huge premieres in a fashion now reminiscent of those really only seen at LA's Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood or the Village in Westwood, and palaces have been replaced by multiplexes (the magnificence of stadium seating still will never replace the character of an interior like the Ziegfeld -- even though it only dates back to the 60s -- or, my all-time favorite movie theater, the aforementioned Mann's Fox Village in Westwood. But more importantly here in NYC, will this town which until now had one AMC complex suddenly be overrun by them? Will the very name of "Loews" be gone. I mean, the "Thank you for coming to Loews/Sit back and relax/Enjoy the show!" theme song has been mostly missing for some time already. Are we about to see the last of the name of the pioneer of film exhibition? It's at least a little sad, no?
Meanwhile, I'm actually very interested in seeing what happens to the E-Walk and the Empire, literally across the street from each other. Can one company afford to keep both places open? The E-Walk has (I believe) two theaters that rank among the largest screens in all of New York City, but the Empire is a larger complex with roughly twice as many houses. Still, I wonder if AMC doesn't have trouble filling some of those screens at times -- a problem they wouldn't have if films that were otherwise exclusive to the Loews chain in New York was available to them. And what, if anything, does this mean to Clearview Cinemas -- owned by corporate giant Cablevision/Rainbow Media which, strangely enough, also owns IFC and the new IFC Center -- and even small independent City Cinemas. Is Regal, with only a small toehold in Manhattan at Union Square and Batter Park City, going to go after either of those chains? (Probably not. None of their theaters, except for maybe the Clearview Chelsea, is a big or modern enough complex.)
I've actually been fascinated by exhibitor ownership recently. Back in the early days of movies, the major studios also owned the theater chains, hence names like "Fox" on top of the Village in Westwood, or the Paramount Theater here in New York. But anti-trust issues forced the studios to sell-off all their theaters and creating an entirely separate marketplace. These days, the studios still don't control the movie houses (at least not directly), but the companies that do keep consolidating. What is interesting, however, is how some people on the smaller, independent, arthouse circuit or creating distribution pipelines that, in some way, mirror the early days of Hollywood. Billionaires Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner have created/bought several companies (2929 Entertainment, Magnolia Pictures, HDNet, HDNet Films, Landmark Theaters) which give them holdings in the development, production, distribution and exhibition of films and television. Rainbow Media's IFC and IFC Films already develops, produces and acquires features, has its own cable channel and now has opened the IFC Center which, while not showing IFC product exclusively, will (I believe) premiere all IFC Films features with a minimum of a two week exclusivity window in lower Manhattan. Other independent companies have tried to do something similar overtime to not as much success (Madstone Pictures and their theaters come to mind.)
Is there anything wrong with this? Not really. Certainly not on this level. Even with a chain as large as Landmark, the kind of movies and distribution platforms we're talking about are usually at best in the hundreds of screens rather than the three-to-five thousand of most major Hollywood releases. Still, as "independent" film keeps becoming less and less independent, I find it interesting to note how the now full-of-money, non-indie movement is, maybe unintentionally, following a similar path as the original business model of the very institution it so often decries.
Now, if only they would build that bridge. Can you imagine how many movies you could theater hop in a day with over 35 screens?!?!?