Vid window to wonder

How important are windows? Studio execs say it’s important to keep them open — but how wide and for how long?

It may seem like the window between a movie’s theatrical release and its debut on video keeps shrinking from what has long been a general average of about five or six months. In contrast, Disney’s “Monsters, Inc.” comes to video this week more than 10 months after its debut in theaters last November.

The studio expects “Monsters” to surpass the 24 million purchased copies of “Shrek,” released on video last year less than six months after the theatrical release. It is already on pace to surpass the first-week sales of nearly 10 million generated by “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which had a six-month window.

Stretching exercise

The lesson here must be to stretch the release date out and build demand, right?

Not necessarily.

The same studio, Disney, just decided to break a long-standing tradition of delaying the vid release of its annual summer animated theatrical release about nine months until the following spring. “Lilo & Stitch” will be the first Disney summer animated movie to be released in the same calendar year — just in time for the holiday selling season when it comes out Dec. 3.

What gives?

“When we were going to do it, we just made the plans initially and did a lot of that behind-the-scenes work and all the things that we were going to add to the DVD in order to have it ready a little bit earlier,” Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook said this week. “So not only are we then able to hopefully take advantage of a good holiday at gift-giving time, but we are also going to again set ourselves up to allow characters to live for hopefully years to come.”

As long as the DVD extras are all produced and ready to go, and movies are burning out at theaters within a few weeks, why not close the window to just a small crack and put the video out a couple months after a theatrical debut? After all, a gigantic movie like New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” showed up on pay-per-view earlier this month, just 30 days after the DVD release, with an option to see more than an hour of the same extras on PPV for about one-fourth the price.

Sticking to tradition

“I don’t think that’s going to happen … too soon,” Cook said. “We’re always going to protect that theatrical exhibition because in essence that’s what basically sets the value for your film. We’re not going to do anything to interrupt that.”

But studio execs sometimes seem overly cautious about announcing video plans less than a few months after the theatrical release in fear of discouraging potential customers from going to movie theaters. “We’re very careful about that because we don’t want to do anything that’s going to in any way inhibit audiences from going to the theater at all,” Cook said.

Do they think moviegoers would be irate to discover that the movie they just paid $10 to see is coming to video a few months later?

“I don’t know that, frankly, it matters that much anymore,” Cook acknowledged. “I don’t know that it really has an impact since I think most people obviously know that it’s coming. It’s not like a big surprise.”

What may be a big surprise for Disney stockholders is the hundreds of millions of extra dollars the studio will likely generate this year by closing that window in order to get the video revenue from the second-biggest animated movie of the year, “Lilo & Stitch,” during the same holiday season that revenue flows in from the second-biggest animated movie of last year (“Monsters, Inc.”) and the DVD debut of the biggest animated movie of 1991 (“Beauty and the Beast”).

(Disney studios chairman Dick Cook talks more about movie and video release strategies, DVD production, video-on-demand, and Disney’s release of Japanese animated film “Spirited Away” in Variety sister publication Video Business on Monday.)

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