Cineworld Acquisition Of Picturehouse Cinemas Pulled Up By The Office Of Fair Trading

Cineworld

The largest pseudo-indie cinema chain in the UK is comprised of City Screen’s Picturehouse Cinemas. These are the places where you’ll most likely find, for example, Pedro Almodovar’s I’m So Excited or Antonio Campos’ Simon Killer.

My local cinema is a Picturehouse, and I’m glad of it. They do screen plenty of things I want to see, some things I can’t see anywhere else. Just last weekend I visited them to see both The ABCs of Death and Promised Land, both of which are very limited releases, here in the UK.

Last December, the multiplex chain Cineworld set about acquiring City Screen as part of their business. There was some immediate kerfuffle in the press about how this would mean the end of City Screen-style programming, followed directly by assurances that it wouldn’t.

Well, it seems like The Office of Fair Trading have their doubts, and referred the deal to the Competition Commission. As Cineworld’s statement has it, there’s some fear that the deal:

may reduce local competition in 5 areas

Cineworld’s defense goes like this:

we believe the two businesses are fundamentally different. We run the two brands separately and we are confident that we will be able to demonstrate that local competition will not be reduced and, as 95% of respondents to a recent Picturehouse survey agreed, that “a multiplex experience is different to an arthouse cinema experience”.

They’re focusing, as you can see, on the “experience” and not the programming – which is maybe for the best as City Screen started taking multi-week bookings of films like Pirates of the Caribbean, Sex and the City and The Matrix long before Cineworld came into the picture.

I hope the deal goes through, personally. Yes, because I’m hoping the Cineworld Unlimited service eventually extends to Picturehouses – as unlikely as that might seem – but also because the sheer size of the organisation should give them a lot of buying power, as well scope to program very distinctly across the two brands.

I’m maybe a touch less optimistic about that last point now that I’ve seen the statement and it makes no allusion at all to Picturehouses offering a different type of program. But the potential is still there…

And maybe the decision will now be forced, thanks to this inquiry. Perhaps the Competition Commission is going to do us all a favour. Maybe the Matrixes and Sex and the Cities and all that stuff will vanish from the Picturehouse programs, letting the Simon Killers and the Promised Lands breathe a little more.

Anyway, I’m going to continue visiting my local Picturehouse pretty regularly, I’m sure – all the while wishing my local Odeon* would blow away on the wind and be replaced by a new Cineworld multi-screener. That Unlimited scheme, I tell you. It’s brilliant. A Cineworld, a Vue and a Picturehouse?

*The Vue can stay. They’re much better.