Amazon May Buy Distressed AMC Theater Chain in Seismic Hollywood Streaming Shift
Jeff Bezos can use AMC’s 600 theaters and 200 million North America, Europe and Middle East customers as “marketing weigh stations,” said one insider. No offers to the theater chain. Yet.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has dispatched his investment advisors and top entertainment chiefs to explore acquisition plans for embattled theater chain AMC Entertainment, according to multiple senior sources familiar with the discussions.
The thinking is that Amazon can use AMC’s nearly 600 theaters across North America, Europe and the Middle East as “marketing weigh stations,” said one Amazon insider. This would be used for promoting Amazon Prime movies for awards contention, cross-selling services such as grocery delivery, serving as local distribution hubs, and collecting crucial data from AMC’s annual 200 million moviegoing customers.
It would also throw a lifeline to AMC, the world’s largest theater chain whose financials were torpedoed by the COVID pandemic chased by Hollywood’s cut-throat pivot to their own streaming services. The cinema chain – whose stock traded a year ago at $34 and now languishes at about $4 – can be scooped up cheaply (and without a major premium) for just a few billion dollars.
The discussions inside Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle and entertainment offices in Los Angeles are fluid, and there is no certainty that the retail giant will even make an offer. One insider told The Intersect that Bezos may just bide his time should AMC’s stock continue to erode, or even pounce on AMC assets if the company buckles into bankruptcy — a strategy reminiscent of British banking giant Barclays’ takeover of Lehman Bros. during the financial crisis.
“This is a distressed asset,” said one analyst who covers the company for a major investment bank, which would be in the running to represent one side of a potential sale. “Buying this kind of marketing real estate is a coup.”
LightShed Partners star analyst Richard Greenfield famously prognosticated AMC as “a one cent stock.” It ticked up in early trading Tuesday to $4.65, still an 85% decline from where it stood a year ago, probably shocking Greenfield at how high it actually reached.
Any deal would allow Amazon to pick up a line of AMC-branded “Perfectly Popcorn” merchandise sold in retail stores like Wal-Mart and an interest in a gold mine. All strategic moves AMC chief Adam Aron made last year to quickly diversify a company struggling with pure consumer economics. Box office receipts plunged 70% during the worst of the pandemic, and are just now rebounding as studios release blockbusters like Avatar, Top Gun, and Indiana Jones sequels.
Aron has tried his best to keep the Meme-stock darling afloat amid accusations of hedge fund short-sellers and a vast financial journalism cabal. It’s snagged the attention of vulture funds and potential suitors. The stock has fallen so precipitously that the Securities and Exchange Commission may be close to labeling it a “penny stock.”
So, this is pocket change for Bezos, one of the world’s richest men calculated by Forbes with $121 billion of mad money to play with. Amazon’s current market valuation stands at almost $1 trillion. The tech mogul muscled a similar move into the retail healthcare space buying primary care provider One Medical for $3.9 billion last year. Don’t forget his acquisition of Tinseltown bible IMBD in 1998.
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Aron responded to a text message late Monday evening with “we do not reply to rumors and speculation.” His spokesman did not elaborate. Amazon declined to comment.
To be sure, these are internal discussions being held inside Amazon. The company has mulled making an acquisition in the theater space since launching Amazon Prime Video in 2006, according to one former senior executive.
Some of the information (including a few pages of a pitch deck reviewed by The Intersect) are bouncing around internally at the internet powerhouse. There has been no specific offer to Aron’s team, who use many of the same investment banks as Amazon, according to sources on both sides.
Aron also shows no sign of contemplating throwing in the towel, and there’s every indication he’s fighting to remain independent. He lambastsd Hollywood’s production spigot for halving the number of blockbusters heading to screens, and expects a 75% increase in 2023 popcorn flicks grossing $100 million or more versus last year.
“By no means are we out of the woods,” Aron said during a fourth-quarter earnings call just weeks ago, pitching investors that the sagging theater industry is on the cusp of a major turnaround.
Time may be running out for the world’s biggest theater chain as the box office CEO fights to prop up a miserably suffering stock valuation, hold back creditors on the company’s nearly $6 billion in long-term debt, and keep the Wall Street wolves at bay. He’s executing a 10-for-1 reverse stock split that folds in AMC’s preferred units, known as APEs, which many Wall Street analysts contend will severely dilute the market value.
It’s a financial Hail Mary for AMC as it consolidates market power to remain a stand-alone company. But, as a former top lieutenant to Bezos explains, there’s a potential path forward for an Amazon deal. The upshot: “Many customers interact with the AMC brand every week and physically go there.”
“There could even be a subscription element to it as part of Prime. And it would help in booking Amazon movies,” the executive told The Intersect. “So there is upside. But one hears all sorts of rumors, so…”
So, one thing Amazon advisors are said to be tracking hourly is what’s going on with AMC chief rival Cineworld. The world’s second-largest theater chain, which controls 600-plus locations that operates under the Regal brand in the US, is planning an exit from bankruptcy.
Similar to AMC, Cineworld has been sideswiped by rapidly shifting consumer patterns toward streaming while also wrestling with a massive $6 billion debt load. Two buyers have emerged for Cineworld, according to Axios. Elliott Management and CVC Capital Partners are eyeing some of the company’s businesses. Elliot,, according to multiple reports, at one point weighed a bid for the whole of UK-based Cineworld.
Any play for AMC also comes at a time where both Amazon and Apple plan to spend more than $1 billion a year each to produce movies that will be released in theaters, according to a report from Bloomberg. Both have been under pressure to keep up with rivals like Netflix and Disney+, though it’s hard to tell how big Apple and Amazon’s streaming services are since they do not release consumer data.
The world’s largest online retailer aims to make between 12 and 15 movies annually that will get a theatrical release, according to the financial news service. Amazon will release a smaller number of films in theaters next year and increase its output over time, putting it on par with major studios such as Paramount Pictures.
Securing theatrical releases helps Amazon and Apple lure top Hollywood talent, such as Martin Scorsese or Brad Pitt. Streaming platforms may be the biggest way consumers view content these days, but celebrities and their publicists still prefer the marketing cache when films hit the big screen — especially for awards contenders.
There’s also a regulatory caveat.
Movie studios can buy theaters. Disney currently owns the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood and has owned chains in the past such as the Buena Vista Theatre and the Hyperion Theatre. Warner Bros. previously owned a chain called Warner Bros. Theatres, which it sold to AMC in 1987.
But, there are antitrust laws in place that regulate how much of the movie exhibition market any one company can control to prevent studios from having a monopoly. The Sherman Antitrust Act prohibits any contract, conspiracy, or combination that puts too much control into the hands of one Hollywood studio.
For example, if a studio were to use its control over a theater chain to exclusively exhibit its own movies or to require theaters to pay a premium to show its movies, this could be seen as anti-competitive behavior by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.
Could that stop Bezos?
Probably not. Fellow media mogul Rupert Murdoch has famously challenged anti-trust laws in snapping up newspaper assets such as The Wall Street Journal, television and radio stations, and (almost) The Los Angeles Times. There’s no reason to believe that Bezos couldn’t do the same in the theatrical space.
An earlier version of this story misidentified AMC’s gold mine investment was in South Africa. The company, Hycroft, is based in Vancouver.
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