The war between AMC Theatres and Universal has just heated up. Cineworld, the second largest global theatrical chain (and owner of Regal Entertainment in the U.S.) has joined AMC in refusing to play any Universal movies after NBC Universal Jeff Shell made waves yesterday with plans to launch Uni titles on premium VOD (PVOD) and in theaters at the same time.

Cineworld announced today that, "Universal's move is completely inappropriate and certainly has nothing to do with good faith business practice, partnership and transparency." Cineworld then went further into the problem.

"Cineworld's policy with respect to the window is clear, well known in the industry and is part of our commercial deal with our movie suppliers. We invest heavily in our cinemas across the globe and this allows the movie studios to provide customers all around the world to watch the movies in the best experience. There is no argument that that big screen is the best way to watch a movie. Universal unilaterally chose to break our understanding and did so at the height of the [health] crisis when our business is closed, more than 35,000 employees are at home and when we do not yet have a clear date for the reopening of our cinemas."

Cineworld made it clear that they are 'always open to showing any movie' as long as the 'rules' (related to theatrical release and windowing) were 'kept' and 'not changed by one sided moves'. They also stated that they are making it clear again that they will not show any movies that do not respect the windows (sequentially releasing titles, first in theaters, followed a 'reasonable' time later by PVOD and other formats). Breaking those windows, Cineworld said, does not make 'any economic sense' for them. They went on to say that they have full confidence in the industry's current business model.

Theatrical exhibition generated a record take of $42 billion last year (globally), with studios' share of that take around $20 billion. Clearly, the stakes are high for all parties. It is likely that Cineworld (located in the UK) awoke this morning across the Atlantic to the quickly escalating war of words between AMC and Universal that has also involved NATO (the National Association of Theater Owners). Universal, yesterday, quickly clapped-back at AMC refusing to show their movies by reiterating support for their decision and statements. Cineworld certainly could not let that stand uncontested.

As our earlier story mentioned, the ban by the world's two largest theatrical exhibitors places in jeopardy the cinema releases for F9, Universal's highly anticipated follow-up in the Fast and Furious saga. Other titles potentially affected would include: Jurassic World: Dominion, Sing 2 and Minions: The Rise of Gru, all of which are slated within the next year.

It would surprise no one for Cinemark, Marcus and other major national (and international) chains to start piling on this battle. For the theaters, who spend massively on screens, seating and sound as well as a host of concession, dining and entertainment options and who have to, then, give-up most of the early ticket sale revenue during a film's run, to not hold their ground would be economic suicide - especially with the huge debt burdens most of them bear.

For its part, Universal is also waging a secondary front in this battle, enlisting their sister company, business network CNBC to support the notion that home viewing of movies is here and 'in demand' and likely to stay. The business net went on further to say that AMC has very little, if any, leverage in this fight, with their theaters closed and weighed down by enormous debt and running up expenses for all their closed locations daily.

It seems that Hollywood is busily writing the next epic war masterpiece themselves. Where will the other studios come down on this? Do they support the exhibitors, or do they side with Universal? Maybe they remain quiet in the hopes of moving over to the winning side shortly before the war is won? Will the other chains jump out in support of AMC and Regal? They almost certainly must. This news arrives via Variety.

Justin Case