Who is afraid of a pillow and blanket? The major theater chains, it seems.
Who is afraid of a pillow and blanket? The major theater chains, it seems.
Photo by Allison Miles

Movie Theater Turf War: Is the Loop Too Small for iPic and Edwards Greenway?

The new Hunger Games movie will not be screening at Edwards Greenway Grand Plaza. If you live inside the Loop and can't bear to leave it for a movie, then you're either going to have to head downtown and catch it at Sundance or pony up the cash to catch it over at iPic. If you had wanted to see Spectre, you were in the same boat. If you want to see the new Star Wars movie, then you'll be getting your force fix at one of those two theaters.

From the outside looking in, it's easy to jump to conclusions. You look at iPic and you see their neighbors in the River Oaks District – Cartier, Dior and Tom Ford to name a few – and assume that they dropped off a few sacks of cash around Hollywood and suddenly they've got the west side of the Loop locked down when it comes to blockbusters.

But according to iPic CEO Hamid Hashemi, iPic didn't ask for this. According to him, in a conversation with the Houston Press last week, it's Regal Entertainment Group, the owners of Edwards Greenway, that made the choice not to screen the same films as iPic. Is Regal so threatened by the new theater in the market that they're willing to sacrifice some short term profit to make a point to the studios?

It's a question that it appears is going to be answered in a courtroom. According to The Wall Street Journal, iPic has filed a lawsuit here in Houston against Regal Entertainment Group (and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.) claiming they're using their industry power to hurt their new high-priced competition.

There are a lot of business words that would get thrown around at this point, about clearance and miles and film zones, and truth be told, the whole thing sounds kind of silly.

What makes the movie business so special that they think they're above competition? Can you imagine if we had taco zones, where the first business to settle in got exclusive rights to serve fillings inside a tortilla for X amount of miles? How would Starbucks build stores across the street from itself if coffee zones were a thing? The Great Pharmacy war between Walgreens and CVS seems proof enough that competing businesses can not only exist near each other, but be damn near eye to eye in a lot of cases.

As I've written before, I really enjoyed the iPic experience. It's not going to be my first pick movie theater, because I a) live in Westchase and b) am a ride-or-die Alamo Drafthouse person, but I know I'll go back at some point. As Hashemi mentioned in our conversation, iPic strives to make the act of going to the movies enjoyable, independent of what film is being shown.

I can see how that might come off as threatening to the chain theaters, as long as you're willing to ignore that whole “owning thousands of theaters” thing. For so long, they've thrown their money at fancy tech gimmicks so they can squeeze audiences out of a few more dollars. How disappointing to find out that all people were looking for this entire time was nice seats and a blanket?

But if we're being honest, I don't really understand Regal's issue here.

According to Google Maps, it's a 1.4-mile walk from Edwards Greenway to iPic in Houston. Austin has an iPic too, up in The Domain, where Regal also has a theater. It's a 1.6-mile walk between the two of them. Both theaters are showing the same films.

Regal Entertainment Group did not respond to our request for comment.

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