For the film and media distribution industries, this year has been action-packed. Production budgets are skyrocketing and new digital services have been announced or are launching with each passing month. The streaming wars are upon us. Moreover, the FCC recently voted to treat streaming services as “effective competition” to traditional cable providers (or MVPDs), thereby triggering basic cable rate de-regulation in parts of Hawaii and Massachusetts.
The distribution landscape took yet another unexpected legal twist this week. On November 18, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim announced that the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice would ask a federal court to terminate the “Paramount Consent Decrees” (the “Decrees”), which have prohibited movie studios from engaging in certain distribution practices with movie theaters since the 1940s. The DOJ filed a motion to terminate the Decrees in federal court in the Southern District of New York on November 22, 2019. Notably, the DOJ cites streaming services and new technology as a few of the many reasons that the Decrees may no longer be necessary in what the DOJ official sees as today’s highly competitive, consumer-driven content market. Given the volatility of the content licensing space, film licensors and licensees will have to carefully consider how the DOJ’s actions will affect their content rights and options going forward.