Imagine Marvel buying DC, or Pepsi buying Coke.
That’s kind of what it feels like to hear that Cineplex Galaxy LP is taking the Famous Players theatre chain off of the hands of Viacom Inc., as reported today by the Canadian Press, Associated Press, Reuters and The Globe and Mail.
I don’t know much about the movie-theatre culture back east, but I do know that, in Vancouver, for as long as I can remember and up until Cinemark opened a single theatre here a few years ago, Cineplex (formerly Odeon) and Famous Players ran pretty much every theatre in town except for the independent arthouse and second-run venues; and even there, Famous Players owns a portion of the semi-arthouse Alliance-Atlantis chain.
There was always something of a Tweedledum and Tweedledee aspect to their “competition”, as they always seemed to introduce policies in tandem — instituting $2.50 Tuesdays back in the ’80s, setting a one-price-fits-all-showtimes policy a couple years ago, etc. — so in a way the merger is no big deal; it just eliminates the redundancy. But I have always liked the popcorn, the decor, even the smell of the Famous Players theatres better.
I’m also a little surprised to see who’s buying who here. Over the past decade, Famous Players went on a building spree, erecting megaplex Silver City and Colossus outlets in the suburbs, and barely more than a month ago they opened the Paramount theatre in downtown Vancouver, just a few blocks from where I live; meanwhile, Cineplex seemed to be having greater difficulties, financially, as it shut down all but three of its theatres in the area. But I guess it’s possible Famous Players overstretched itself, or maybe Cineplex was always stronger somewhere else.Meanwhile, the plot thickens: The Competition Bureau has stipulated that Cineplex, having bought its main competitor, must now sell 35 theatres, which would be something like a fifth of the combined chains’ venues. And Vancouver is one of the towns where Cineplex theatres must be sold. Could be interesting to see which places get snapped up, and by whom.
JUNE 23 UPDATE: Don’t know why I didn’t post this sooner, but the Georgia Straight has an interesting follow-up on the effect that this sale may have on the Vancouver Int’l Film Festival. Basically, as all the other venues on what used to be known as “theatre row” have shut down over the years (bye-bye, Plaza, Paradise, Caprice, Vancouver Centre, and now Capitol), the festival has come to rely pretty strongly on the Granville, a 7-screen multiplex that is owned by Cineplex. Now, thanks to the merger and the requirement that it sell off some theatres, it is quite possible that Cineplex will sell this venue to someone else. And it’s anybody’s guess what the festival would do for venues after that.