EXCLUSIVE: Rival studios tell me that exhibitors are quietly furious that Disney has begun selling the Beauty And The Beast 3D Blu-Ray DVD at Target and Walmart and other retailers without fanfare at the same time the film goes into theaters today. (Walmart lists the release date as October 2011 of this ‘Diamond Edition’ and has already discounted it from $49.99 to $34.96.) As one rival studio exec tells me, “They think what Disney did is very underhanded by sneaking it into stores.” By contrast, last year’s Disney’s The Lion King 3D Blu-ray DVD didn’t go on sale until two weeks after the threatrical release. “Is Beauty And The Beast 3D Blu-Ray going to be the experiment that closes the windows for sure?” one rival studio exec asks me. “If so the exhibitors have truly lost a major battle.”

Disney in its defense points out that the vast majority of families don’t have 3D televisions yet so the DVD won’t affect theatrical gross. “We’ve talked to all of our partners in exhibition about this and have made no secret about the Beauty And The Beast 3D Blu-Ray DVD being available. In fact there are multiple exhibition partners that are tying promotions into the 3D Blu-ray being available, like AMC and Regal.”

I’m surprised that exhibitors aren’t kicking up a public fuss. But they don’t want to call attention to the Beauty And The Beast 3D Blu-Ray DVD and hurt their own business. Guess they only go public if it’s about the VOD window. Remember all the publicity about Universal’s trial balloon for the Tower Heist same-day VOD premiere for $59.99? (Universal Halts ‘Tower Heist’ VOD Plan As Exhibitors Agree To Further Talks.) Meanwhile, Warner Bros is now trying to put the genie back into the bottle by negotiating longer windows. (Warner Bros Doubles Netflix Wait Period For Discs To 56 Days.)