Oslo film lovers are missing out on major blockbusters this summer due to a conflict between cinema chain Oslo Kino and distributor UIP. Oslo Kino’s new owners Egmont Nordisk Film denied it had ordered the chain to demand UIP provide the film rights at a lower price.
On Friday, big-budget Hollywood action film Transformers: Age of Extinction premiered in Norway, but it wasn’t available at regular cinemas in Oslo. “We are in negotiations with UIP about rental of the film,” Oslo Kino’s program director Christin Berg told newspaper Aftenposten earlier in July. “We have not come to an agreement here, and therefore we can not yet show the film in our cinemas. Oslo Kino pays far higher film rental than our closest competitors, and we’re working for a more equitable price policy.”
No agreement had been reached in time for Friday’s premier. UIP instead hired out the old cinema at Christiania Teater and the Norwegian Film Institute’s Filmens Hus to screen the blockbuster.
It’s not the first time this year Oslo moviegoers have had limited access to a film, or missed out on it altogether. In February Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy and in March Captain America: The Winter Soldier were not screened because of conflict over the leasing agreement between Oslo Kino and Disney. It was eventually resolved in May. Three other UIP movies also dropped out of Oslo Kino cinemas this summer: A Million Ways to Die in the West, 22 Jump Street and Deliver me from Evil.
Change of hands
Danish company Egmont bought out Oslo Kino last April for NOK 600 million (USD 103 million). Oslo Kino is Norway’s largest cinema business, with 23 halls across seven theatres in the capital. It also fully owns Norsk Kinodrift AS, which operates cinemas in Asker, Askim, Halden, Horten, Hønefoss, Kilden, Kristiansund, Ålesund and Verdal. The company is in good financial shape, last year making a profit of almost NOK 15 million.
UIP Norway’s director, Simen Rognerud, told newspaper Klassekampen in April this year that Egmont was bent on introducing a Danish approach to the “great and functional cinema market” in Norway.
Egmont’s cinema director John Tønnes denied the company was demanding distributors drop the price to show films in Oslo Kino theatres. “When the film distributors claim that the conflict is driven from Denmark, it is polemical spin to divert the attention from the fact that Oslo Kino is denied renting films on reasonable and equal terms,” he told Aftenposten.
“We have not required Oslo Kino to take up any conflicts with the distributors. What we have done is make Oslo Kino aware of how the rental level is for other cinemas in Norway and abroad, and then it has become clear that the distributors take too much money from cinemas in Oslo. Film distributors in Norway get an extreme amount per ticket because the ticket prices in Norway are high, and especially because the VAT is low on cinema tickets.”
“Internationally it’s the case that the largest cinemas pay less than the small, not more as it is here,” Tønnes said. “We did not ask for that. We just want the same rental terms as other cinemas, and we are agreed with Oslo Kino on that.”
Tønnes said he regretted the immediate impact on Oslo dwellers, but said Oslo Kino needs to pull in more income to justify investments to improve the cinema experience. “We are sorry for this,” he said. “The short-term effect of this disagreement is that there are some films you cannot see in Oslo. But we need to take up some conflicts with the distributors. Once the agreements are in place it will give us the opportunity to give the public a better cinema offer.”
“There will be massive investment, but previously Oslo Kino has not earned enough to justify major investments,” Tønnes explained. “To get better results we must streamline the company, but we must also improve our competitive conditions and that is what we’re working on now by asking for lower film leasing from the distributors.”
He said Egmont Nordisk Film was investigating more Norwegian cinema purchases. Late last month it emerged the company had bought a 49 percent share of Kristiansand’s municipal cinema company, KinoSør. If approved at a council meeting in September, it will give Egmont control over 22 cinemas in Norway and a market share of 33 percent.
“We do not buy cinemas to leave them as they are,” said Tønnes. “We will develop, renovate and build new cinemas and give the public a good cinema experience, at the same time as we ourselves have sensible, stable earnings.”
Evolution, not revolution
Rognerud welcomed Egmont’s investment plans, but said they could not do so by taking UIP’s share of the revenue. “The cinema market in Norway is clearly changing,” he said. “We are open to helping with changes, but when the market has long functioned in a specific way there must be an evolution with changes over time, and not a revolution where changes must happen right away as Nordisk Film demands.”
Ove Solum, a media studies professor at Oslo University said conflict between cinemas and distributors has gone on since the 1920s, but said the digitization of cinemas has caused tensions to flare. He said large cinemas previously paid higher rental prices to get the films first.
“The digitization of the cinemas which was completed in 2011 has affected the distribution, so that the small cinemas now get major films at the same time as the big cinemas,” Solum said. “In the old system a limited amount of copies circulated from the largest cinema first to the smallest at the end. Now large and small cinemas can premiere at the same time, and that is enough to justify the conflict.”