Disney pays for Alice in Wonderland in cinemas?
The other day Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was being threatened in Europe on a massive scale as distributors across the UK and Europe were saying they may not carry the film at all due to Disney not shortening the length of time between the release in the cinema and the release of the DVD.
In the Netherlands this was affecting 85% of all cinemas, while in the UK the chains included Odeon, UCI and Cineworld. The situation for the film looked very bleak.
It seems that Disney are reaching private deals with cinema chains that were threatening to not show the film, and now it’s spreading it’s distribution. In the UK Disney headed over to make deals with Cineworld and UCI, who are now set to show the film.
Cineworld and UCI have both now accepted the release of Alice in Wonderland after talks with Disney executives, probably talks that ended in either some financial deals or perhaps even a deal about future releasing, however Odean are sticking to their guns, and as yet I’ve heard no change on the Netherlands situation.
The whole issue is around the DVD release dates. Disney wants to shorten the release window between cinema and DVD to ninety days for Alice in Wonderland in a few selected territories – not all over the world – and this is what angered the cinema chains, for they see their audience turning to the much cheaper DVD and Blu-ray options and not going to the cinema.
However, in the UK Odeon and Cineworld may well now be playing ball, but Odeon is not. Despite hosting the premiere on Thursday evening, they will not be distributing the film throughout their chain, and they are rather adamant about it.
In a statement from the Odeon/UCI group through The Guardian:
”Odeon/UCI has invested considerable sums of money, especially in the UK, over the past 12 months to install digital projection systems in its cinemas to enable customers to enjoy 3D…The popularity of 3D titles meant that last year these films played in Odeon/UCI cinemas for an average of 18 weeks from initial release.”
So you can see that they have a much larger opportunity to make money on the film than they would with just ninety days as their exclusive window, although that is nearly thirteen weeks, they are just shaving off five weeks there.
In the Netherlands Youry Bredewold, who represents both Pathé and Holland's National Board of Cinema Owners, was a little harsher about the move.
”We will lose money due to our decision…We expected [Alice] to become one of the most popular movies of 2010. 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.”
Wow. That’s harsh.
According to the stories, some American chains are considering pulling the film from the cinemas when it is released on DVD and Italian chains are considering their options. Meanwhile Bob Chapek, the President of distribution for Disney, said:
”We feel that it's important for us to maintain a healthy business on the exhibition side and a healthy business on the home video side…We think this is in the best interest of theatre owners, because a healthy movie business is good for them and allows us to invest in high quality, innovative content.”
There’s clearly a struggle occuring here between the studios trying to get the film onto the home market quickly to beat piracy, and the cinemas wanting to keep their control of the exclusivity for as long as possible to make as much money as they can.
What does this mean for Disney and Alice in Wonderland? Well they are going to miss over one hundred cinemas in the UK, but thankfully Cineworld and Vue, who represent a third of the UK marketplace, are distributing the film. Perhaps they can live with that.
Interestingly, The Hollywood Reporter tells us that Spanish, German, Portuguese and Austrian cinemas are going to be unaffected. Why’s that? Well they aren’t getting their window between release shortened, only certain territories.
That raises a number of questions for me, the first being why are only some territories being affected? Is this an experiment by Disney to see what happens regarding piracy and the release window, running control experiments in some and the shortened release windows in others?
Certainly seems that way to me, which leads clearly onto the next question. Once Disney have done this are they going to follow suit on other film releases? Worse for the cinema chains, will other studios follow suit too?
There’s a chance that, if this is an experiment and it works, that it could be adopted by all the studios and the cinema have no choice but to agree to the terms.
What does that mean for the consumer? Well we can get our hands on the DVD and Blu-ray much quicker than before, but not much else.
I understand both sides of the arguments. Disney want to combat piracy and the cinemas want to keep the films in the cinemas longer. There’s clearly some overlap here, the studios and the cinemas need to work together to stop piracy, but as I’ve said time and time again, the majority of pirated films are not coming from people in cinemas recording the film on their camcorder, they are coming from much better sources within the industries.
This also raises the question of the cost of going to see a 3D film. Despite the chains receiving funding to assist in the rollout of 3D and digital projection, the chains still raise the cost of a 3D ticket and charge extra for the glasses. Adding to that they do not offer a refund of the glasses charge on returning them, if the chain does accept them back.
Clearly consumers want the cost reduced to 3D films, and they would welcome both a reduction in price and quicker availability on the home market. What the studios and the cinemas have to do though is ensure that the piracy is stopped at their end and so increasing attendance as well.
However they don’t seem to be working together and the studios could well start plowing on with a reduction in the release window, and then where would we all be?