Move would soften blow of potential Odeon boycott

In a saga being watched by exhibs and distribs around the world, U.K. exhib Vue has joined Cineworld in saying it will book Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” — despite its shortened DVD window.

There also were indications Tuesday that U.K. circuit Odeon may back off from its threats to boycott “Alice.” Odeon, Cineworld and Vue are the largest circuits in the U.K., respectively, controlling 75% of the market.

Vue’s announcement is a sizable victory for Disney, which intends to release “Alice” on DVD three months after its March 5 global bow compared to the standard four months. Vue said it supports not only Disney’s plans for “Alice” but a shortened window on as many as one or two Mouse House titles a year.

The battle over “Alice” signals a significant change in the current thinking on theatrical-to-DVD windows.

With an important territory like the U.K. dropping its opposition and no U.S. circuit publicly fighting Disney — so far, at least — other Hollywood studios are likely to shorten the window on some titles each year, as Disney is proposing.

At first, uproar ensued in the U.K. over the shortened window. Talks commenced between Disney and exhibs more than two weeks ago.

One negotiating point between theater owners and Disney has been the advertising campaign for the “Alice” DVD, insiders say. Exhibitors don’t want ads for the DVD to begin while the film is still early in its theatrical run. The advertising issue is also of concern to U.S. exhibs. Disney has reportedly assured theater owners that it wouldn’t need to start the DVD ad campaign until six or eight weeks after the theatrical bow.

Studios say a shortened DVD window would incentivize them to program year-round. As it stands now, studios don’t want to put big titles in September since the DVD wouldn’t come out until after the holidays.

In the case of “Alice,” Disney wants to release the DVD before the retail doldrums of summer and the big summer B.O. releases.

Vue said in a statement that giving studios more flexibility will provide more choices for moviegoers.

“This is a win-win for everyone in the entertainment business and in particular for our customers by offering greater film choice. This agreement is also likely to grow the business for all the key stakeholders,” Vue CEO Tim Richards said.

In some instances, foreign exhibs have more bargaining power because they control larger market shares of the business. The exhibition biz in the U.S. is more fragmented, with six or seven major players. The top three circuits are Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment and Cinemark.

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