Just before Taylor Swift’s concert film, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” passed $100 million in global ticket presales this week, its distributor, AMC Entertainment, announced that it had struck a similar deal with Beyoncé for the singer’s Renaissance tour. Both projects follow tours that became cultural phenomena and pushed sales records, and the films are expected to be hits themselves.
The deals behind them are also unusual. Most big movies are distributed by a major studio. But Swift instead bypassed the studios, produced the concert film herself and sought distribution through AMC, a theater company rather than a movie studio. Theaters will keep less than half of the ticket proceeds, while Swift and AMC are expected to split the remainder. Ticket prices for adults will start at $19.89, a price that nods to the name of a Swift album and her birth year.
Beyoncé ’s deal for a release of her concert film in December appears to have parallels with Swift’s arrangement.
AMC Entertainment, which stands to profit handsomely, may not have struck these deals if it weren’t for a recent tweak to antitrust law.
DealBook spoke to Makan Delrahim, the former D.O.J. antitrust division chief who proposed that change to the law in 2018, about how it facilitated the pop stars’ movie deals.
Swift’s agreement includes some terms that would have been unlikely a few years ago. In 1938, The D.O.J. sued what were then the Big Five studios — MGM, Paramount, RKO, 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers — for monopolizing the movie industry and forcing exhibitors to take unfavorable deals. In 1948, the studios entered into the “Paramount consent decrees,” which limited their ability to own or control theaters. Over time, these decrees became de facto standards for the industry, Delrahim said, and Swift and Beyoncé may not have been able to make the deals they did if the decrees were still in effect.
Delrahim said he saw the decrees — which were created before streaming, cable and television had established new types of competition for theaters — as a “misguided form of government intervention in the free markets” that “stunts innovation and pro-consumer business practices.” After a period of public comment, he asked a federal judge to dissolve the consent decrees, and the court agreed. The expiration of certain parts of the decrees has allowed for new innovations in movie deal making, Delrahim said.
Swift was able to make one deal with AMC for all of its theaters, and it could make deals with other movie theater chains that covered all of their theaters. Under the Paramount consent decrees, standard practice was to negotiate with theaters individually instead of licensing to a block of theaters at once. But because the law changed, Swift did not need to negotiate with individual theaters. She only had to negotiate with AMC.The new way is “much more efficient and allows for innovative practices such as the Taylor Swift deal with AMC,” Delrahim said.
Another change allowed for minimum ticket prices. Previously, a studio couldn’t require a theater to keep prices above a particular floor. “Had the decrees been in effect, it’s likely that the specific price that Ms. Swift required for her upcoming film, which reflects her birthday year, wouldn’t have been allowed,” he said. “Given the early demand, it’s probably underpriced, but it’s great for the consumer and for Ms. Swift’s fans.” Beyoncé’s tickets will be priced at $22, also a minimum price that would not have been tolerated in the time of the decrees.
Not everyone is a fan of the new norms for movie deals. Some have argued that the dissolution of the decrees have made things more fair for major studios competing with streamers while leaving independent producers to struggle to get their movies shown and exhibitors to have trouble bringing certain films to their theaters. Critics have said a more effective alternative would have been enshrining the restrictions into updated regulations that applied widely to all industry players, including relatively new entrants like streaming services, instead of eliminating norms. But as Swift might say, and has sung, “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.” — Ephrat Livni
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial finally begins. A founder of FTX, the failed cryptocurrency exchange, appeared in federal court this week as prosecutors and defense lawyers squared off on whether the company failed because of fraud. Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty.
Kevin McCarthy is ousted as House speaker, leaving Congress without a leader and effectively halting all legislation. Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-ranking House Republican, and Jim Jordan of Ohio are among those seeking to replace McCarthy, though its unclear whether either lawmaker have enough support to win.
The S.E.C. goes after Elon Musk again. The agency is suing the tech mogul to force him to testify over his purchase of Twitter last year. The S.E.C. is investigating whether Musk broke securities laws in rapidly accumulating shares of Twitter ahead of his $44 billion takeover of the social media platform, now named X.
Exxon Mobil is reportedly in talks to buy Pioneer Natural Resources, a major shale driller, in a $60 billion takeover that would be the biggest deal of the year.
The strike economy, by the numbers
What had been a summer of strikes is stretching well into the fall — and involving more and more workers.
Tens of thousands of workers at Kaiser Permanente, the giant health care system, walked off the job this week after they failed to reach a deal on a new contract. That has substantially expanded the number of Americans on the picket line to at least 250,000 workers, the most since several statewide teacher strikes in 2019.
Here are the biggest employee actions taking place now:
SAG-AFTRA, which represents 150,000 actors, is closing in on a third month of a strike that continues to cripple Hollywood.
The United Automobile Workers has more than 25,000 members on picket lines against the Big Three Detroit automakers. (That represents less than 20 percent of the total U.A.W. members working at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis because the union is targeting a small number of locations at a time, a strategy that allows it to preserve its strike fund and maintain pressure longer.)
More than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers walked off the job in five states and the District of Columbia, one of the largest health care strikes in recent U.S. history.
Another 300,000 workers nearly walked off the job this summer, but UPS agreed to a new labor contract with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in August, narrowly avoiding a strike. And about 11,500 screenwriters went back to work last week after leaders of the Writers Guild of America voted to end their 148-day picketing of major Hollywood studios. (The W.G.A. won a surprisingly high number of concessions from media companies, analysts said.)
Labor stoppages were once much bigger: In 1970, there were at least 2.4 million workers on strike, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today’s numbers are “a lot — relative to the 21st century,” said Johnnie Kallas, director of the Labor Action Tracker at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell.
The “Great Resignation” no more
The great resignation is officially over. Data released this week showed that the rate of workers quitting their jobs fell back to its prepandemic level in August, after a surge of resignations driven by a tight labor market and other factors, such as many service workers having the rare opportunity to trade up for better pay and work environments as the economy reopened after the pandemic. Friday’s job report showed the labor market remains strong: The economy added an unexpectedly high number of jobs in September, and the unemployment rate remains near record lows. But the belief that it will be easy to get a better job seems to have waned.
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