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Derek Long
Since some of the Paramount decree press coverage is glossing the historical details a bit, some initial points/thoughts from my research to add to the incisive comments of , , and others:
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
(All of this is admittedly from a project on the practices of the 1910s and 20s. So an earlier part of the story that might have limited relevance for today's distribution ecosystem.)
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
First, to correct something I've seen in a few press pieces, most block booking contracts did not require theaters to rent a distributor’s "entire slate” or “a whole year’s worth of films.”
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
Many early program contracts in the 1910s did, but from the 20s until the ’40 consent decree (when distribs agreed to limit the blocks to five films) most blocks were 1/4 to 1/2 of a distrib's yearly slate. Others were based around a the output of a single star (2-12 films/yr).
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
Less important than the *size* of the blocks was the practice of tying films together as a unit. This let studios mix together specials and A-films with programmers and B-films (or popular stars with unknowns), selling the latter on the merits of the former.
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
By doing things this way, the studios could 1) more easily justify block booking as wholesaling 2) price individual films to their greatest advantage within the block 3) collectively gobble up exhibitors’ playing time 4) crowd out product from independent distributors.
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
My own take: The DoJ is throwing dust in statements like “much of our movie watching is not in theaters at all” and “We cannot pretend that the business of film distribution and exhibition remains the same as it was 80 years ago.” (source: )
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
Block booking was never really about “theaters,” at least in its fundamental purpose. It was always about enabling a small group of firms to control the packaging, pricing, and temporal windows of film distribution for maximum profitability and minimum risk.
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
Even with the decree in place, the media distribution practices and antitrust policies of the past forty years have helped to create a market where 40% of domestic theatrical box office is going to a single distributor (and 90% of the same to just five companies—sounds familiar!)
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
So killing the decree matters not because “the horizontal conspiracy has been stopped” or because film-watching has changed.
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
Rather, it matters because whatever new form(s) of block booking the studios design to pass muster in today’s (laughable) antitrust environment would work in tandem with streaming.
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
And streaming, as a form of exhibition, is itself kind of the ultimate form of block booking/tying—lots of less interesting material sold on the back of a handful of coveted films/shows/properties/franchises.
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
That streaming enables distributors to control the *data* of exhibition (in addition to its pricing, packaging, and time) is just one more instrument of control.
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Derek Long Nov 18
Replying to @DerekLong08
(Anyway, my ramblings on this whole thing.)
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