Talks between UK exhib and Mouse continue

Mega U.K. exhib Odeon on Monday stepped up its threat to boycott Disney’s 3D event pic “Alice in Won­derland,” saying the Mouse House’s plans to release the film early on DVD jeopardize the very existence of cinemas.

Odeon is the U.K.’s largest exhibitor. If it carries through with the ban, Odeon also wouldn’t play “Alice” in the theaters it operates in Ireland and Italy.

Disney insiders insisted, however, that negotiations with Odeon continue.

U.K. circuits aren’t alone in their discontent. In the U.S., Regal Entertainment is the only one of the three big exhibs to have said it will carry “Alice;” talks continue with AMC Entertainment and Cinemark, which have concerns with the shortened window.

In either case, the countdown is on: “Alice,” directed by Tim Burton and toplining Johnny Depp, opens around the globe on March 5.

Ironically, Thursday’s world premiere of “Alice” in London is taking place at the chain’s centerpiece Odeon Leicester Square venue. That event is not expected to be affected by Odeon’s proposed ban.

Disney intends to release “Alice” on DVD three months after its March 5 theatrical debut. Exhibs count on a four-month window.

Odeon, which operates 838 screens in the U.K., said the shortened window is unacceptable.

“The negative impact on cine­ma attendance that such a reduction in the window will have will threaten the continued existence of many cinemas, especially the smaller and medium-sized cinemas,” Odeon reps said in a statement.

“Odeon/UCI has invested considerable sums of money, especially in the U.K., over the past 12 months to install digital projection systems in its cinemas. The proposed reduction in the window on a high-profile 3D title like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ undermines the investment made.”

Although its boycott could financially wound the theater chain, Odeon said it has a “very full lineup” of other films to offer audiences over the next few weeks, including DreamWorks Animation and Paramount’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” which opens March 26, and Warner Bros.’ 3D pic “Clash of the Titans,” opening April 2. “These will now take priority in our cinemas,” the exhib said.

Odeon will show “Alice” in its theaters in Spain, Germany, Portugal and Austria, where Disney has indicated it will observe the usual four-month window.

Nonetheless, Disney isn’t likely to back down on the windows issue elsewhere. Insiders say the studio already compromised once with exhibs in agreeing to release the DVD of “Alice” 89 days after the theatrical bow vs. 81 days.

Where Disney has room to maneuver is in negotiating the terms of revenue sharing with exhibs.

If Odeon follows through and passes on playing “Alice,” Disney would certainly take a financial hit. “Alice” is a natural fit for British auds.

However, financial losses would be minimized if U.K. exhib Vue, the third-largest circuit, plays the film. Cineworld, the second-largest circuit in the U.K., has already announced it will carry “Alice.” Together, Cineworld and Vue operate some 1,366 screens in the U.K.

Vue is believed to be nearing a decision to show the film as well, insiders said.

In negotiations with exhibs both in Europe and the U.S., Disney has insisted it isn’t changing its policy. Rather, it would like the flexibility to release one or two titles a year early on DVD.

There’s been concern in other parts of Europe with Disney’s proposal. The four largest circuits in the Netherlands have already announced they will boycott the film.

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