Exhibs fight short video windows

China delays DVD of films for better B.O. chance

SHANGHAI In the ongoing battle against film piracy, Chinese cinema chains have formally signed the so-called “Beijing Proclamation” requesting future video products be launched a minimum of 15 days after cinematic release.

The past year has seen a decrease in the window between theatrical and DVD/VCD release, aimed at combating the market for pirate copies, which often hit the streets within 48 hours of the premiere.

But cinemas complain that early video releases, in contrast to the West’s usual two- to five-month window, damage their chance of realizing a film’s maximum potential B.O.

The proclamation states that starting Feb. 1, exhibs refuse to show films whose video release date breaches the 15-day rule.

The news comes just after China’s total B.O. for 2003 was announced as 950 million yuan ($115 million). Figure is down on 2002’s total of more than $120 million, and means Mainland China’s B.O. remains smaller than that of Singapore. This comes as a disappointment for exhibs, even given the fact cinemas in Beijing closed for seven weeks due to SARS last year.

Despite struggling against a dominant pirate DVD market, sales of legitimate DVDs are picking up. Total revenue from the last two years was reported to be more than $240 million, making it a bigger industry than exhibition.

This figure has been boosted by the recent trend of near-simultaneous cinematic and video releases.

An executive from Nanjing-based Yangtse cinema chain was quoted in the Yangtse Evening Post as saying: “Video distributors launch their products at the same time as films on show in the cinemas, and sometimes even earlier. It is not just against international film distribution rules, it is also provides cover for the pirate market. The market becomes confused about what is real and what is fake. The Beijing Proclamation will provide real protection for cinemas.”

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