German Theaters Continue Ban On Disney In Fee Dispute

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A group of small theater owners in Germany is fighting back against U.S. movie studio Disney. The theater owners began a boycott against Disney films this last weekend with the new Avengers film, and are threatening to continue their boycott of Disney films if the entertainment giant doesn’t withdraw its plan to increase film rental fees.

Movie cinemas in 193 smaller cities and towns across Germany came together to organize the Disney boycott, and would not show The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The theater owners say they will extend the ban to all of Disney’s films if their demands aren’t met, and the 3D animated movie Tinkerbell: Legend of the Neverbeast, is due to open up at the end of this week (April 30th).

Details of German theater boycott of Disney

Small theater owners in Germany are upset about a new rate hike in the rental fee for Disney films, which has jacked the percentage of ticket sales the studio collects from 47.7% to 53%. The new fee structure makes Disney’s fees for smaller theaters match those paid by larger chains in Germany’s bigger cities.

The cinemas in small communities argue they don’t benefit much from marketing for films that is aimed at big cities, and have to spend more to compensate.

“We told Disney we were prepared to go as high as 50 percent but that’s the limit,” noted Karl-Heinz Meier, a spokesman for IG Nord, an organization that represents cinema owners in Northern Germany, said in a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter. “We said for a 50 percent rate, we’d screen every Disney film.”

Of note, Disney also announced the rate hike a mere 12 days before the start of Avengers, meaning theater owners had almost no time to adapt to the changes. Meier said if Disney won’t compromise on the new terms, the theaters will continue to boycott all Disney films, including such upcoming hits such as Pixar’s Inside Out and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Disney sent a letter to the boycotting cinemas on Monday, April 27, saying there would be no change in their rental policy and that the new rate of 53% would stay in effect. Disney would not comment to THR for this story.

While Meier and other independent cinema owners hope to reach a deal with Disney, they are worried the studio’s rate hike could soon be copied by other Hollywood majors. If so, he says, Germany’s small town cinemas will continue to fight: “We are businessmen, we just want to run our business. But these conditions make it impossible.”

Rates should be going down

Also of note, AG Kino, an industry organization representing the interests of theater owners in Germany, argued that film rental fees should generally be going down rather than up, given that movie houses have had to spend a great deal on digital projection technology, a move that mainly benefits studio distributors who no longer have to pay for the delivery of many rolls of film all across the globe.

“Digitization has resulted in major savings for distributors, (savings) that have not yet been passed on to their partners, the cinemas,” AG Kino commented in a statement. “We are convinced film rental costs have to come down.”

Quantifying the financial impact

The financial impact of the German Disney boycott is not clear. The cinemas involved represent a total of 686 screens, however, apparently not all were planning to book The Avengers anyway. Cinemas from small towns, representing 187 screens across Germany, all of which promoted The Avengers: Age of Ultron in the run-up to last weekend, took part in the boycott

The Avengers: Age of Ultron ended up opening on over 840 screens in its first weekend in Germany, totaling $9.35 million (€8.6 million). Those totals represent the the best-ever start for a Marvel title in the Germany.

Disney launched the first Avengers film on 660 screens in Germany back in 2012, bringing in around €6.3 million on opening weekend. There were 708,000 tickets sold for Age of Ultron, relative to 560,000 for the first Avengers film, which ended up grossing over $30 million in Germany.

Earlier this month Fast & Furious 7 opened on 642 screens in Germany. Fifty Shades of Grey began with 739 screens. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, had the biggest opening in the country in 2014, launching on 930 screens.

The tickets sold per screen for The Avengers: Age of Ultron was close to 1,500 for the past weekend, very strong for a widely release title.

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