Industrial analysis of the U.S. movie industry's market structure over the past one hundred years reveals a persistent tendency toward the concentration of power in the hands of a few corporations. As many film scholars have suggested, industrial analysis has significantly increased our understanding of important economic changes that have occurred throughout film history.1 The use of industrial analysis in classic studies, such as Michael Conant's analysis of a major antitrust case, United States v. Paramount et al. (1948),2 has produced important insights into the formation of the U.S. movie industry and subsequent changes in its market structure. Market structures that are particularly relevant to the U.S. movie industry include oligopolies and virtual monopolies (the concentration of ownership in the hands of a few companies) as well as the vertical integration of production, distribution, and exhibition (the movie industry's equivalents of manufacturing, wholesaling, and retailing) within powerful corporations. Market structure interacts with other economic factors, such as supply and demand, to effect the industry's overall conduct and performance. It can be influenced by government antitrust intervention, exemplified by the Paramount case, as well as by government promotion of industry concentration, such as National Recovery Administration (NRA) policies during the New Deal or government support of film industry cartels abroad following two world wars. Although U.S. film industry oligopolies and virtual monopolies have sometimes included foreign firms--such as Pathé's participation in the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC), or more recent Japanese-based conglomerates, such as Sony and Matsushita--for the most part, at least since World War I, U.S. firms have played a leading role in the global movie industry and dominated their own domestic market.
A technological and economic foundation for a U.S. movie industry was established by Thomas Edison. As Charles Musser has suggested, Edison's