UK Exhibitors End Boycott Of Disney's 'Alice'

From Deadline|London editor Tim Adler:The UK’s biggest movie theatre chain Odeon has now ended its standoff with the Walt Disney Co. It joined exhibitors Vue and Cineworld to show Alice In Wonderland as scheduled. What a win for Bob Iger and what a sea-change for filmgoers. It’ll end up like Korea where a movie plays for a few weeks in cinemas and then, snap your fingers, and all formats are available at a variety of prices. Disney decided to stare down exhibitors both here in the UK and in the U.S. by imposing a 12-week theatrical window instead of the standard lag between a film appearing in cinemas and then going to DVD of 17 weeks. It all kicked off when Disney CEO Bob Iger told investors during an earnings call earlier this month: “It‘s really important for us to maintain a very healthy business on the exhibition side, and 3D is definitely contributing to that, and a very healthy business on the home video side, which we think is actually in the best interest of the theater owners. And so, mindful of what‘s going on on the home video side, we feel that it’s time, on a case-by-case basis, movie-by-movie, to really take a look at how we’re windowing the home video product into the marketplace.” Disney distribution president Bob Chapek echoed his boss on the need for exceptions like Tim Burton’s 3D Alice In Wonderland to accomodate a shortened time frame on a case-by-case basis. Disney argues that most films earn 97% of what they’re going to make theatrically after 8 weeks. That gap between the film disappearing from cinemas and its DVD release is where pirates slip in. What it all boils down to is that Disney thinks it can make more money from DVDs while Alice is still fresh in people’s minds.

The next day UK exhibitors Vue and Odeon took down marketing materials for Alice from their foyers, stopped playing the trailer, and refused to book tickets. Cineworld, perhaps mindful of its share price, didn’t go so far: it just deleted Alice from its website. Then, over the past couple of weeks, Vue and Cineworld both agreed on terms, leaving Odeon on its own and in control of 25% of UK cinemas. The situation reminds me of one of those war movies where the brave British Tommy goes over the top to face the enemy, expecting his chums to follow, only to find himself stranded in No Man’s Land. Odeon probably was happy to hold over Avatar, the big 3D film of the moment, until Paramount releases How To Train Your Dragon in 3D on March 31st. Warner Bros debuts Clash of the Titans two days later on April 2. Odeon also pulled Alice from its Irish and Italian cinemas — countries where Disney is also imposing a 12-week window.

But exhibitors across Europe also are unhappy about the whole windows issue. Four Dutch exhibitors – Jogchems, Minerva, Pathe and Wolff – have said they’re not going to play Alice either. Together, those four represent around 85% of the Dutch market. However, European exhibitors are constrained from showing a united front because of European anti-trust issues

Disney will release Alice on DVD before the World Cup soccer competition begins on June 11th, which will glue British fans to their TV screens – at least until the quarter finals which is when we Brits normally get knocked out. If Alice makes more money on DVD or VOD than it would have done in those final weeks of cinema release, then the experiment will have been judged a success.

Disney has downplayed talk in the British press that this is a test case for the way the studio releases all future films. It points out that The Princess and the Frog is playing with a traditional 17-week window. “This isn’t the new normal,” Disney told me. However, the feeling among executives I’ve talked to is that this has been a game-changer. Distributors and exhibitors had been talking about breaking the 3-month window for films released on fewer than 50 prints. “Only a mighty studio like Disney can challenge the exhibitors in this way. Exhibitors can ill-afford to boycott Disney,” one distributor told me before Odeon caved.

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