Culture / Entertainment

Amazon Could Control River Oaks Theatre in $175 Million Buy

Historic Houston Movie Palace Would be Part of the Online Goliath’s New Strategy

BY // 08.23.18

So, here’s a new preview for all the film buffs out there. Get the popcorn ready. Coming soon to a theater near you: Amazon.

And not just any theater. The beloved, historic River Oaks Theatre, survivor of literal fire and the plague of streaming services, could soon be run by the online giant.  This potential major deal is one plot twist we didn’t see coming.

Amazon is vying to buy the Landmark Theatres movie theater chain, which would give it control of River Oaks Theatre’s operations and current lease. Weingarten Realty owns the actual theater building and Landmark holds the lease.

Amazon could be ushering in a new era in film, right here in Space City.

It makes sense, in a way. E-commerce titan Amazon is the master of spinoffs and sequels. Online bookseller, Internet purveyor of everything you can think of — we’re talking Nicolas Cage pillowcases, French fry holders and live ladybugs—  brick-and-mortar shop, new Whole Foods grocery master… now, real-life movie theater chain.

This goes way, way beyond digital domination. It’s a growing physical foothold.

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But before you think it’s curtains for River Oaks Theatre Midnight Movies, just know that nothing’s been signed — yet. The retail monster might not be reeling it in. According to Bloomberg, Amazon is not assured of landing Landmark Theatres, a private chain of over 50 cinemas across the country. There are various and sundry other suitors. Deadline prices Landmark Theatres value at $175 million.

Which is considerably less than Whole Foods, which Amazon purchased for $13.7 billion. And is something of a small-time buy for a company with a market cap of $909 billion.

Landmark Theatres specializes in art house, independent and foreign films. You knew it was classy once you saw the ‘e’ and ‘r’ out of place. It’s a little less Marvel Universe, a little more Manchester by the Sea — an Oscar-winning Amazon original movie that just so happened to play at River Oaks Theatre.

The Cuban Factor

Landmark Theatres is controlled by 2929 Entertainment, the holding company of Texas billionaire business pro, Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank star Mark Cuban and his partner Todd Wagner. We can trust Cuban to know if it’s a savvy business move.

So, what’s the end game of this prime power play? Amazon already spends the big bucks — in the billions — on movies and TV shows every year for original programming like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

With the acquisition of Landmark Theatres, there’s the possibility for further distribution and monetization of that original content. There’s the opportunity to broaden Amazon’s horizons and, along with it, its customer base. There may not be too much existing overlap between online movie watchers and people who research show times and collect paper ticket stubs.

And that’s from audiences all over — Landmark Theatres has more than 250 screens in 27 markets, including theaters in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and more.

They say timing is everything, and in this case they couldn’t be more right. Just this month, the U.S. government declared it might overturn a heavy-hitting Hollywood settlement that would have made all of this impossible. The Paramount Decree, which just had its 70th birthday, prevented the vertical integration of movie studios and theaters.

If it’s terminated, Amazon could be among the very first to explore the new frontier.

Does this mean the days of warm-hearted, low-budget indies interspersed with nostalgic gems like Space Jam and so-bad-they’re-good accidental horror shows like The Room at River Oaks Theatre? It’s too soon to tell if we should be saying “Beat it, Bezos.” No spoilers have been revealed quite yet.

But, it may be time for some reel talk.

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