The holiday season is a traditional box-office bonanza, and this year it is even more so with Star Wars: The Force Awakens shattering ticket sales records. Ohio families are among those lining up to buy tickets and enjoy the show.
In order to protect the interests of Ohio’s families, my office is always on the lookout for activities that could negatively affect consumers or businesses. Right now, my office is investigating the nation’s three largest movie theater chains — AMC, Cinemark and Regal — for possible antitrust violations. Our efforts have prompted nine other states to launch similar probes.
The investigation is focused on whether the chains engaged in conduct that unfairly excluded competitors from the market and kept new theaters away. Exclusionary conduct, generally, can limit consumer choice. Combined, AMC, Cinemark and Regal control 16,754 movie screens in the United States and Canada.
From the 1920s through the 1940s, Hollywood studios, which not only made the films but also owned the theaters, had a near monopoly on the movie business. In 1948, the landmark case U.S. vs. Paramount cleared the way for independent theaters. Today, it is the major theater chains that have consolidated and are exerting great influence.
All businesses should have a fair chance to compete. We’re investigating the movie theater chains because of concerns that smaller, independent businesses have been unfairly pushed out of the market. We’re conducting a thorough review to determine whether any state antitrust laws have been violated.
Under Ohio antitrust law, if an investigation uncovers illegal conduct, the Attorney General can seek an injunction or other monetary remedies.
My office reached a positive resolution in another antitrust case this year — one involving the rock salt market.
In 2008, the state began investigating that market in response to increased salt prices and the concerns of public officials. Higher prices, paid with taxpayer dollars, meant that state and local governments had less money for road maintenance and other important infrastructure work.
In 2012, the Antitrust Section of my office brought a lawsuit against Cargill Inc. and Morton Salt Inc. accusing them of dividing up the Ohio rock salt market and agreeing not to compete with each another for public bids. It was a complex case involving expert economists and huge volumes of documents.
The case took three years to reach trial. In May, just before the trial was to begin, Morton and Cargill agreed to settle and pay the state $11.5 million to resolve the case. From that money, my office sent checks to local agencies and governments in 87 Ohio counties that had purchased salt from Cargill or Morton between 2008 and 2010 for the treatment of slippery roads.
All public agencies in Ohio can receive free help from the Ohio Attorney General’s Antitrust Section to detect possible anti-competitive activity. The section also has attorneys and investigators available to give presentations on the basics of antitrust law. For more information, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515.
From rock salt to movie theaters, our efforts are focused on upholding the integrity and fairness of the marketplace. Healthy competition benefits consumers, taxpayers, and businesses, and you have my commitment that my office will protect the interests of Ohioans.
Mike DeWine is Ohios Attorney General.