L OS ANGELES — The National Assn. of Theatre Owners, the country’s largest trade group of exhibitors, has lashed out at Sony Pictures concerning its plans to stop footing the bill for 3-D glasses and pass the expense on to moviegoers. However, Sony may not be alone in its crusade for long, as at least one other studio is considering following suit.
Sony recently sent a letter to cinema owners informing them that as of May 1, 2012, it will no longer pay 3-D technology companies such as RealD the average cost of 50 cents per ticket for 3-D glasses used by moviegoers. Sony has two big 3-D movies coming out after May 1 next year: “Men in Black III” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
Such costs can add up to more than $10 million for particularly popular films.
Instead, Sony wants theaters to follow a policy that’s already common in other parts of the world: Having consumers pay for their own disposable 3-D glasses, either to rent for each movie or to own a pair they can take home. Consumers already pay a premium of about $3 dollars for each 3-D movie ticket.
After news of the letter surfaced in the Hollywood Reporter, exhibitors fired back Wednesday morning with a letter decrying the move. “NATO believes Sony’s suggestion is insensitive to our patrons, particularly in the midst of continuing economic distress,” the group said. “Sony’s actions raise serious concerns for our members who believe that provision of 3D glasses to patrons is well established as part of the 3D experience.”
In addition Amy Miles, chief executive of Regal Entertainment Group — the nation’s largest theater circuit — said her chain might show fewer 3-D films if it was forced to bear the cost of glasses.
A Sony spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Other studios may soon line up in support of Sony’s move. Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution for 20th Century Fox, said he “applauded” the move. “I am revisiting this issue as well,” he told The Times.
Fox was the first studio to attempt to stop paying for 3-D glasses, in the summer of 2009. However, no other studios supported its decision at that time, so Fox backed down.
The news comes as relations between Hollywood and exhibitors are already frayed after a spat concerning studios’ tests earlier this year of “premium video-on-demand,” through which consumers could pay $30 to rent a movie only 60 days after it debuted in theaters.
As with all such public disagreements, however, it remains to be seen whether studios and theater owners will ultimately tone down their rhetoric and reach a compromise.