Window issue causing possible boycott of film

A showdown is under way over “Alice in Wonderland.”

Disney’s plan to release the 3D tentpole early on DVD grew more complicated Monday as the four largest Dutch exhibs announced they’ll boycott the movie unless the Mouse House retreats.

Top U.K. and Italian circuits are likewise threatening to pass on Tim Burton’s “Alice,” set to open in theaters around the world on March 5. Disney wants to release the DVD just under three months from that date, whereas the standard window is four months.

U.S. circuits have been more amenable to Disney’s plan, saying they understand the need for flexibility in a tough marketplace.

But the growing clamor over “Alice” in foreign markets could put U.S. theater owners in a tough position. They don’t want to be viewed as soft on the windows issue. And if Disney relents on terms with foreign exhibs, domestic theater owners could want their terms adjusted as well.

Disney also stands at a crossroads. It has told exhibs it would like to shorten the theatrical-to-DVD window to under 90 days on two titles a year. “Alice” is a crucial test.

The Dutch exhibs threatening to pass on “Alice” are Minerva, Pathe, Wolff and Jogchems, repping between 80% and 85% of all theaters in the Netherlands.

Youry Bredewold, a rep both for Pathe and the National Board of Cinema Owners, said Disney is not keeping its part of the bargain by breaking the four-month window.

“We will lose money due to our decision; we expected (‘Alice’) to become one of the most popular movies of 2010,” Bredewold told AFP. “But we decided we need to send a message to the whole industry: If you don’t accept our terms, we will never show your movies again.”

Last week, Disney dispatched top execs Bob Chapek and Chuck Viane to London to meet with Brit theater owners upset over the “Alice” proposal, including the three largest, Odeon, Vue and Cineworld. Trio rep 60% of screens in the U.K. and more than 90% of 3D screens.

Insiders say some U.K. exhibs softened as a result of the discussions but that at least one circuit was still threatening to pass on “Alice,” starring Johnny Depp.

A distribution exec at a rival studio predicted that the furor would blow over. He also said exhibs in the U.S. aren’t likely to be swayed by what happens in certain foreign territories.

“The exhibs here are leaders, not followers. They are going to do what’s right for their business,” the exec said. “At the end of the day, Disney will play their picture and exhibitors will make a lot of money off of it. Everyone will forgot those exhibs who didn’t play it.”

Paramount released “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” early on DVD last year, telling exhibs it was an exception.

For U.S. theater owners, the line in the sand is now 90 days. Any DVD release under 90 days is certain to require negotiations with a studio, such as Disney engaged in regarding “Alice.”

Warner Bros. intends to release Zack Snyder’s 3D family adventure “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” within 90 days of its theatrical bow on Sept. 24. That’s because the studio wants to get the DVD out in time for the holidays. In the U.S., the windows issue has been heating up for more than a year, with exhibs no longer automatically opposed to a shortened window for select titles.

Theater owners request an average window of four months from studios, meaning some titles could go out earlier than that, and some later, as long as it averages out.

Along those lines, Paramount said Monday it will release Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” on March 9, 95 days after its Dec. 4 theatrical bow. Par wants to take advantage of any Academy Award wins; the Oscarcast will be held March 7.

Similarly, Warners will release “Sherlock Holmes” on DVD roughly 95 days after its theatrical bow.

U.S. exhibs are expected to support Warners, since they have long encouraged studios to release bigger titles in September and October.

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