Iger, NATO's Fithian offer differing views on theatrical, DVD releases

Studios and exhibs usually sing from the same hymnal. But slow traffic in the pews has a way of bringing out cracks in the choir.

Going over quarterly results with Wall Street analysts earlier this month, Walt Disney Co. prexy Bob Iger said studios ought to be thinking about restructuring release windows and raised the possibility of Mouse House titles hitting theaters and DVD at the same time.

That hit a nerve among exhibs, and National Assn. of Theatre Owners prexy John Fithian shot back in a statement last week that what the studios ought to really be thinking about is how to make better movies.

Lecturing the heir to Michael Eisner, Fithian said, “Mr. Iger knows better than to tell consumers — or Wall Street analysts — that they can have it all, everywhere, at the same time.”

If an exclusive theatrical window isn’t preserved, he said, Hollywood studios would become “merely one shriveled vendor among many in that new world of movies-as-commodities-only.”

The exhib trade org head also argued that theatrical releases in large part drive DVD and other ancillary markets down the line.

“DVDs that sell well benefit enormously from the advertising platform and national conversation generated by theatrical release.”

He added, “Here’s what we know about 2005: The movies are not as good. They’re not terrible. They’re just not as good.”

Iger, according to a Disney rep, had no response to the NATO swipe, but he’s standing by his original comments, which applied to TV as well as film.

“I think windows in general need to change. They need to compress. I don’t think it’s out of the question that a DVD can be released in effect in the same window as a theatrical release.”

In the next breath he added — correctly as it turns out: “I’m sure we will get a fair amount of pushback on this from the industry.”

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