‘Hurdle after hurdle:’ P.E.I. drive-in owner says Disney policy hurting theatres

BRACKLEY, P.E.I. — The owner of a drive-in theatre in Prince Edward Island says a requirement that cinemas screen most new Disney releases for a minimum of three weeks is choking out small-town businesses.

Bob Boyle, owner of the Brackley Drive-In Theatre, said the standard has become a bigger problem since Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment and the Star Wars franchise, and he expects the issue to reach its breaking point now that the titan plans to acquire 21st Century Fox.

Boyle said that while Cineplex, Canada’s largest movie theatre company, can afford to take up their screens for weeks at a time, there isn’t enough demand to keep playing a film for three weeks straight in smaller communities, especially in a single-screen theatre.

“If we don’t have quality film on-screen week in and week out, we’re an empty parking lot,” he said. “Without people and without film … that’s what makes the magic happen.”

The Brackley Drive-In Theatre has been operating since the 1950s and has been in Boyle’s family for nearly 30 years.

Boyle said that drive-in theatres, especially in the Maritimes, only have a short window of profitability during the summer months, and they need to show a variety of films during that time to keep customers watching.

Disney also implemented another policy within the past couple of years that prevents theatres from showing double features of movies they haven’t screened before.

Boyle said this rule makes it even more difficult to come up with a good program, saying there’s “no point” in showing a months-old movie that the theatre has already screened.

“Disney is putting hurdle after hurdle in place,” he said, explaining that he has had no issues with Warner Brothers, Universal Studios, and other film companies. “No other studio does this.”

He added that not being able to watch the films they want in theatres may drive some customers to pirating films, furthering the decline of the already-endangered movie theatre industry.

Disney could not immediately be reached for comment, but a company spokeswoman told CTV Atlantic that each film is negotiated on an individual basis and that the company does not restrict all films to a three-week minimum.

In response, Boyle said he never claimed that Disney has this regulation for all of their films, noting that they have made exceptions in the past — although he reiterated that the rule applies to the “vast majority” of their new releases.

He said there’s no hard copy of the policy, but he understands that Disney could cut off its relationship with his theatre if he doesn’t play a movie for as long as the company tells him to.

Boyle recently took to his drive-in’s Facebook page to criticize the regulation, saying his theatre is no longer able to play “Incredibles 2” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” this week because of the studio’s strict rules.

He asked his customers to push back against the movie giant, saying “the studio will not listen to us, but they should listen to you.”

In turn, dozens of passionate movie-goers responded by flooding the Canadian Walt Disney Studios Facebook page with comments supporting Boyle’s stance.

On a photo advertising “Incredibles 2,” a user commented to express their disappointment in not being able to see the film at Boyle’s theatre: “You are losing out on sharing your work with our community. And leaving a sour taste for your brand as well.”

Another criticized the three-week policy, saying: “This is NOT SUSTAINABLE for seasonal drive-ins. Guess I’ll wait for Netflix.”

Boyle said he was “humbled” by the support he’s gotten and he hopes the public outcry will drive the studio to change its regulations.

He added that other drive-in theatres throughout the Maritimes have voiced their concerns over the issue, and that this rule would apply to all theatres in North America — though the adverse effects would be mostly felt in smaller communities.

“It’s mind-boggling, it’s disappointing, and we’re really hoping for change,” said Boyle.

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