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Theater owners talk tough to studios over early release of movies

June 16, 2010 | 12:31 pm

Warning of creating potential "bad blood" between partners, theater owners delivered an unusually blunt message to major Hollywood studios Wednesday: Don't leave us in the lurch.

The National Assn. of Theater Owners took out full-page ads in the trade papers warning studios that they need to consult with exhibitors about any movies to dramatically shorten the windows between when a movie is released in theaters and when it is shown in homes.

"Exhibitors cannot be blind sided by unusually short windows after they have already booked and begun playing a movie in theaters,'' the group said. "Whatever changes the studios seek to make to their release window models, it is absolutely essential that theater owners by fully involved."

Theater owners were reacting to recent statements by some studios executives that they are eager to experiment with shorter so-called release windows. Studios are pushing to shorten the window between a movie's theatrical release and its DVD and television release.

Federal regulators recently granted a controversial waiver to studios that will allow them to show first-run movies in the home shortly after their release in theaters. Currently, movies are available for people to watch in the home via video-on-demand three to four months after they appear in theaters and when, or soon after, they appear on DVD. Time Warner Cable has even proposed a service that would make movies available to consumers only 30 days after their release for a premium price.

That idea, however, has sent off alarm bells in the exhibition business, where operators fear that would discourage consumers from going to the theater to watch movies and hence weaken ticket sales.

"Collapsing windows muddies the value proposition to the consumer, blurs distinctions between theatrical and 'straight to video' and undercuts one of the important selling points for theatrical exhibition -- the timeliness of the exclusive event,''  the association stated.

-- Richard Verrier


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