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Disney: Early ‘Alice’ release an ‘exception’

Distribution prexy says studio is committed to theatrical windows

Extending an olive branch to theater owners, Walt Disney Studios president of distribution Bob Chapek on Thursday assured exhibs that the studio supports maintaining theatrical windows.

“We remain committed to theatrical windows, with the need for exceptions to accommodate a shortened time frame on a case-by-case basis, such as with Disney’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,'” Chapek said in the one-paragraph statement.

Disney’s diplomacy comes at a crucial point: U.S. exhibs are in the midst of responding to Disney’s requested plan to release “Alice” early on DVD, a little more than 12 weeks after the film opens in theaters, versus the standard 16 weeks.

Disney doesn’t want to risk angering circuits, who could refuse to play “Alice.” Studio has initiated a series of discussions to address exhibitor concerns.

The Mouse House explained to exhibs it would like to shorten the theatrical-to-DVD window on two films a year, specifically films that were released in the spring, like “Alice,” or early fall. If the window wasn’t shortened, Disney would have to release the DVDs during a slow period in June or after the lucrative year-end holidays.

For years, circuits have urged studios to space out film releases more evenly across the calendar.

Negotiations between Disney and theater owners were reportedly going well when confusion erupted Tuesday after Disney prexy-CEO Bob Iger talked about shortening the theatrical window during an earnings conference call.

Theater owners, responding to the coverage of Iger’s remarks, questioned whether Disney was indeed just seeking a waiver or was implementing a new policy.

Chapek’s public statement was intended to mollify those concerns.

“As we said during our earnings call, we feel that it’s important for us to maintain a healthy business on the exhibition side and a healthy business on the homevideo side. We think this is in the best interest of theater owners, because a healthy movie business is good for them and allows us to invest in high-quality, innovative content,” the rest of Chapek’s statement read.

Disney isn’t the only studio that has asked exhibs for the leeway to move up the DVD date to just under three months instead of the usual four. While some titles were smaller films, last fall Paramount released “G.I. Joe” early.

If all the key circuits agree to carry “Alice” despite an earlier DVD release, other studios are likely to follow suit with earlier DVD releases on one or two of their bigger titles each year, which would represent a significant weakening of traditional ancillary windows.

Exhibitors in the U.K. are up in arms over Disney’s plan for “Alice,” with the country’s largest circuits threatening to pass on the 3D tentpole. Chapek and Chuck Viane, head of worldwide distribution for the Mouse, are in London hoping to negotiate a solution.

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