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Big Chain Movie Theaters Are Under Investigation by the Feds

AMC Theaters President and CEO Gerry Lopez, center, is joined in applause during opening bell ceremonies to celebrate the company's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. (Ben Hider/AP Photo)
AMC Theaters President and CEO Gerry Lopez, center, is joined in applause during opening bell ceremonies to celebrate the company’s IPO at the New York Stock Exchange, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. (Ben Hider/AP Photo)

 

(Fortune) – There’s good news if you love movies—and having choices about them.

New Securities and Exchange Commission filings by cinema giants AMC and Regal confirm earlier reports that the government is investigating potential anti-competitive activity on the part of America’s biggest movie theater chains. The filings disclose the Department of Justice is looking into whether those companies used joint ventures and exclusivity agreements with movie studios in violation of antitrust laws.

Operators of small independent cinemas say exclusivity agreements, called “clearances,” are a problem because they allow big chains to prevent competitors from playing popular new movies. That’s bad for consumers who want more theater options close to home—or prefer indie theaters, which sometimes offer special ticket discounts or features like food and drink service.

Tom Stephenson, CEO of a local Dallas multiplex, told the Dallas Morning News he has been cooperating with federal investigators. He claims AMC threatened not to play certain films unless movie studios granted the chain exclusive screening rights in his cinema’s area.

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