The writing had been on the wall for the studio since France unveiled its new — and still very strict — windowing rules in late January, setting Disney’s pay VOD window at four months, and subscription-based streaming window at 17 months following the French theatrical release of its movies.
Besides the lengthy SVOD window, Disney has also been up in arms about the fact that it must temporarily pull titles from its streaming platform five months later so that free-to-air channels can have their own exclusive window. The measures were imposed on the studio by the French government even though it hadn’t yet signed the agreement following months of heated debates with other industry players.
A statement from Disney shared with Variety reads: “‘Strange World’ will be available to all Disney+ subscribers in France, forgoing a French cinematic release. While we support French cinema – and have for decades – the new, cumbersome media chronology is anti-consumer, ignoring how behaviour has evolved over the last several years and putting us at increased risk for piracy. We will continue to make decisions on a film-by-film basis and according to each market’s unique conditions.”
A spokesperson for the French Exhibitors Association (FNCF) told Variety that Disney was using the release of “Strange World” as leverage to obtain better conditions for its windowing rules, which will up for re-negotiation on Jan. 23.
“From what we understand, Disney is unhappy with the fact that they have to pull out their titles from their service to allow free-to-air channels to have their exclusive window, so what we are telling them is, ‘Instead of putting pressure on cinemas, please come and discuss with TV channels,'” said a spokesperson for the org, who added that he’s asked the National Film Board to put together a mediation between all parties involved.
When the windowing rules were announced early this year, Disney said it was “not consumer-friendly nor does it establish a balanced or proportionate framework between the various players in the French audiovisual ecosystem.”
“This is especially frustrating as we have been increasing our investment in the creation of original French content while also supporting French cinema through our theatrical releases,” declared Disney at the time.
Although they are still perceived as overly strict, the current windowing rules are a big improvement from the previous guidelines which set the SVOD window at 36 months post-theatrical release. These rules have been been responsible for the absence of Netflix at the Cannes Film Festival, since the event requires every film in competition to be distributed in cinemas in France.
Eric Marti, Comscore France’s general manager, said if Disney decides to forgo the theatrical release of more movies and is followed by other studios, it could lead to a box office loss of 20 million admissions annually in France. “With Warner and Paramount about to launch their streaming services in France, we could end up in the same situation if they follow the same path as Disney,” said Marti. Netflix is indeed the only streamer which signed the windowing agreement back in January.
“The windowing model today around the world is a 45-day window between the theatrical release and SVOD. Studios spend tons of marketing money to promote their movies on a global scale; why would they want to wait 17 months to release their movies in France and spend extra marketing dollars on this market?,” said Marti. The analyst pointed out the windowing rules are more flexible elsewhere in Europe. “France and Portugal are the only countries in Europe where those rules are set by the government, in other countries the windows are negotiated contractually by the producer and the distributor on a film by film basis,” said Marti.