Companies reach compromise on DVD window

The Mouse House has cleared one hurdle in the U.K.: Theater circuit Cineworld announced Thursday it will carry Tim Burton’s 3D tentpole “Alice in Wonderland.”

But Odeon, the largest exhib in Blighty, remains mad as a hatter over the studio’s plans to release the film early on DVD. Odeon and Vue, the third largest exhib after Odeon and Cineworld, are still threatening to boycott “Alice,” which opens around the globe March 5.

Disney is set to release the DVD of “Alice,” toplining Johnny Depp, three months after its theatrical bow. Exhibs in the U.S. and Europe are wedded to an average window of four months although foreign circuits are more rigid about window dates.

It’s not clear yet whether all U.S. exhibs will play “Alice.” Although none of the major circuits have publicly threatened a boycott, biz insiders say there is some unrest about Disney’s plan.

European exhibs have been much more vocal, and not just in the U.K. The three largest Dutch exhibs say they won’t play “Alice,” while some circuits in Italy are likewise upset.

Cineworld’s announcement followed a series of talks with top Disney execs who flew to London last week when trouble erupted.

In agreeing to play “Alice,” Cineworld said it received assurances that Disney doesn’t intend to narrow the theatrical-to-DVD window on every film.

“We are extremely pleased to have reached a satisfactory compromise on this matter. As leaders in 3D, we did not want the public to miss out on such a visual spectacle. As the success of ‘Avatar’ has shown, there is currently a huge appetite for the 3D experience,” Cineworld chief executive Steve Wiener said the statement.

Cineworld’s screens rep about a fifth of all screens in the U.K.

While having Cineworld onboard is a victory, Disney could still be out millions of dollars if Odeon and Vue go ahead with the boycott.

Just as Cineworld made its announcement, Odeon suggested that talks with Disney had stalled.

“As a result of Disney’s insistence on reducing at short notice the theatrical window from 17 weeks to 12 weeks on a major 3D title, regrettably with limited availability of 3D screens, we have been left with no viable means of scheduling and promoting ‘Alice in Wonderland,'” Odeon said in a statement.

Last week, Odeon and Vue pulled marketing materials from their theaters for “Alice” and have stopped playing the trailer or taking advanced bookings. They’ve also removed any mention of it from their websites.

Insiders don’t believe that Disney will back down from its position, since it already compromised once with exhibs on “Alice.” Originally, the studio wanted to release the film on DVD 81 days after “Alice” opened in theaters. Facing stiff resistance from exhibs, Disney agreed to move back the DVD release date to 88 days.

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