Theater Chains AMC, Regal Launch Distribution Venture Open Road With Tom Ortenberg At Helm

The country’s two largest theatrical exhibition chains, AMC and Regal, this morning officially launched Open Road, a venture that will acquire and distribute films that can play in wide release on about 2000 screens. Distribution veteran Tom Ortenberg will run the company. He expects to have three pictures out starting this fall. “Once we’re up and running, we will be distributing 8 to 10 films per year, and possibly more,” Ortenberg said.

The move had been expected since the Sundance Film Festival in January. Open Road joins a crowding field of companies targeting wide-release finished films. What’s unusual here is that two theater chains are behind what Ortenberg termed a “straight content play.” The two entities control between 5,000 and 6,000  venues each in the U.S. (Regal is slightly larger) and between them are responsible for about 31% of the theaters in the U.S., doing about 45% of weekly business. Theater chains like AMC and Regal have railed as big studios continue to shrink theatrical windows on their event films. This venture gives the chains a little opportunity to push back: When those same studios supply stinkers that barely pack theaters or after their big films are mostly played out and hanging on to squeeze out those final drops of theatrical revenue, AMC and Regal can conceivably allocate screens to its own product. Just recently, AMC and Regal were among the chains that said they would not give screens to films that DirectTV wants to show on VOD four to six weeks after theatrical release.

While the largest allocation of P&A is TV commercials, Open Road product has the potential benefit of in-house promotion for films that will get at least 25% of theater penetration in AMC and Regal theaters. Ortenberg said he was unsure exactly how those promotional opportunities would manifest themselves.

“At its core, Open Road is a content play that recognizes that in many weeks of the year, AMC and Regal have excess capacity in their theaters,” Ortenberg told Deadline. “What’s better than to address this by filling those screens with great movies and stories looking for distribution? These films will be playing in all theater chains nationwide, and we will be competing for the same films that other midsize distribution companies go after. We will be an acquisitions-based company. We will not produce, we will not develop, but we are open to pre-buying from script stage or acquiring a completed film. Within those parameters, we will look for films we can acquire at an attractive price and market and distribute in a cost-effective manner to as broad an audience as possible. My experience shows those pictures will be available.” (more…)

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