If a potential Justice Department investigation into booking practices wasn’t trouble enough, the cinema chain giant now has some tribulation in Texas. In a filing Monday in Houston federal court, Viva Cinemas accused AMC Entertainment of engaging in violations of antitrust practices to stop a much-smaller competitor’s Spanish-language showings of first-run studio pictures. “AMC’s conduct was anticompetitive, unlawful, and harmful to Houston’s substantial Hispanic and Spanish-speaking community,” the suit bluntly says. The complaint seeks unspecified damages in excess of $75,000 (read it here).
The filing claims that the chain threatened not to show Warner Bros, Fox, Paramount, Disney, Universal, Sony or Lionsgate films if they did business with the local theater – and Viva says that crippled them.
“Although Viva Cinema commenced operations in the spring of 2013, it went out of business in November 2013 because AMC successfully employed its market power to block Viva Cinema, over a six-month period, from licensing any First Run Spanish Language Film during the film’s initial three week run except Planes, which—consistent with its threat—AMC refused to show at AMC Dunvale,” claims the 27-page filing, citing a nearby AMC venue. “Disney and AMC agreed to prevent Viva Cinema from licensing the following First Run Spanish Language Films within the first three weeks of their opening: Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Monsters University, The Counselor, Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters, Turbo, The Wolverine and 12 Years A Slave,” the claims cites as examples of two studios involved. It should be noted that none of the studios is a defendant in the case.
The now-defunct Viva opened two years ago as an eight-screen, 2-242-seat venue with slightly cheaper ticket prices and an emphasis on the Hispanic market in the Texas metropolis. In the suit, the plaintiffs claim that AMC theaters only showed a single matinee of first-run Hollywood films in Spanish until Viva came along and ceased doing so as soon as the competitor was out of business.
“AMC and the Distributors deprived Viva Cinema of fair competitive access to First Run Spanish Films to exhibit to the Spanish-speaking film-going public in Houston; and deprived the Spanish-speaking film-going public in Houston of any choice with respect to when, where, which, and at what price they could see First Run Spanish Language Films, thus injuring hundreds of thousands of members of the Houston Hispanic and Spanish-speaking communities who would have chosen — and still would chose but cannot — to attend a modern multi-screen theater (like Viva Cinema’s) devoted to the exhibition of First Run Spanish Language Films,” says the suit filed by attorney Michael Hawash of Houston.
This week’s lawsuit comes as AMC waits to see what the DOJ will or will not do and as the company faces a similar ongoing antitrust action from a Georgia chain, that was filed in January last year.