Exhibs’ ‘Alice’ truce opens windows

Odeon, others agree to play Disney's 'Wonderland'

With the U.K.’s Odeon chain and U.S. loop AMC Entertainment agreeing to show “Alice in Wonderland,” the stage is set for Hollywood studios to offer more big titles in earlier-than-usual DVD releases.

Exhibs in the U.S. have become more amenable to smaller films receiving DVD releases earlier than the usual four months after theatrical bow. But the Disney deal is a significant shift in the evolution of windows, and it could result in majors skedding more than two early releases a year.

Both Disney, which plans an earlier-than-usual DVD release of the Tim Burton film, and the exhibs made concessions.

While AMC never publicly threatened a boycott, the circuit stalled in inking a deal to play the film. An agreement with Disney was reached late Wednesday, according to insiders.

Odeon, the largest movie chain in the U.K., had publicly threatened to boycott the film over Disney’s plan for early DVD releases on two films a year, beginning with “Alice.” The DVD will come out three months after its March 5 theatrical bow vs. the standard four months.

In the U.K., assurances were given that the studio won’t begin advertising for the DVD until six or eight weeks after the theatrical bow. It’s likely that exhibs elsewhere asked for the same terms.

Italian exhibs also will now play the pic, although circuits in Belgium and the Netherlands still plan a boycott because of the shortened window. Disney made a compromise in Italy, agreeing to release three tentpoles during the country’s normally dead summer holidays instead of waiting until fall, when box office picks up.

Odeon, which would have boycotted in the U.K., Ireland and Italy, wouldn’t discuss terms of its agreement with the Mouse House but said in a statement: “Odeon is pleased to confirm that it will be able to continue with its plans for significant investment in new cinemas, in digital technology in 3D capability and the other exciting developments designed for the increased enjoyment of all its customers.”

Disney had planned to release the film on DVD after 12 weeks, rather than the traditional 16 or 17. This has reportedly been amended to 13 weeks, following deals struck with rival U.K. exhibs Cineworld and Vue (Vue also had threatened to boycott). A similar compromise was reached earlier with U.S. exhibs.

Insiders say studios will still have to offer a satisfactory reason for releasing a title on DVD earlier than four months. While circuits can’t stop a studio from doing so, they can flex their muscles by refusing to play the film.

Last year, Disney had to scrap plans to release “Up” early on DVD when foreign circuits balked.

Italy’s theater owners association, Anec, announced Thursday that, following “a constructive confrontation,” Italo circuits, including Odeon, will screen “Alice” despite the shortened DVD window. “Every battle must be fought for the good of the film market as a whole, without putting up barriers where you can reach agreements that are convenient for the industry as a whole,” Anec topper Paolo Protti said in a statement.

Protti also underlined that, as part of its negotiations, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” “Toy Story 3” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” will open this summer in Italy instead of waiting until fall. “Apprentice” will be going out during Italy’s sacred vacation month, on Aug. 20, an unprecedented date for a high-profile pic. Other exhibs weren’t forthcoming about terms, but the agreement with Italian exhibs could be telling. In the U.S., circuits have long pleaded with Hollywood to spread out big titles instead of clumping them in summer or around the holidays.

But there are still some pockets of opposition.

In Belgium, seven exhibitors belonging to the Federation of Belgian Cinemas (FCB) said they won’t program the film unless Disney budges. “Alice” opens in Belgium on March 10, with the DVD to follow less than 12 weeks later on June 1. The FCB wants to see the 18-week norm respected.

Belgian market leader Kinepolis, which also has most of the country’s 3D screens, supported the protesters but appeared to leave the door open to negotiation. It said there was “a real chance” that the film would not appear on its screens either.

(Ian Mundell in Brussels and Nick Vivarelli in Rome contributed to this report.)

Related links:
Italian exhibitors agree ‘Alice’ deal
Belgian theaters stage ‘Alice’ boycott
U.K. exhib Vue to play Disney’s ‘Alice’
Odeon threatens ‘Alice’ boycott
Cineworld to carry Disney’s ‘Alice’
‘Alice’ stirs more exhib ire
Disney: Early ‘Alice’ release an ‘exception’
U.K. malice over ‘Alice’

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