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Disney plans to shorten the theatrical-to-DVD window on 'Alice in Wonderland'

February 11, 2010 |  9:08 am

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger is making good on his long-desired plan to make movies available in the home sooner after their theatrical release to maximize DVD revenue and conform to changing consumer habits.

Disney has told theater owners that it plans to shorten the release window on a "case-by-case" basis beginning with its upcoming 3D event picture "Alice in Wonderland," which will come out on DVD roughly three months after its March 5 debut in theaters -- some four weeks earlier than the industry's conventional practice.

Iger has long been a leading proponent of shortening the window but until now hasn't taken any action because of major push-back from theater owners who say it will hurt their business. Iger does not believe it will undermine moviegoing and views it as a way to potentially reverse the DVD slump that has been gripping Hollywood.

Reiterating what Iger told Wall Street analysts last week, Disney's distribution President Bob Chapek said in a statement today saying, "It is important for us to maintain a healthy business on the exhibition side and a healthy business on the home video side. ... We remain committed to theatrical windows, with the need for exceptions to accommodate a shortened time frame on a case-by-case basis."

Chapek has been quietly meeting with theater owners in recent weeks to explain the studio's rationale for shortening the time between a film's theatrical debut and its DVD release. It's in the mutual interest of the studio and exhibitors for a big, expensive film like "Alice in Wonderland," starring Johnny Depp, to perform well at the box office. But it's equally important for Disney to reap strong DVD sales, for the studio to continue to make such big event films.

The studio has concluded that if it adhered to the release windows on a film like "Alice" in the spring, the DVD would reach stores in the summer -- a time when consumers are vacationing or spending time outdoors and less inclined to buy and watch home movies. That's why Disney intends to bring out the DVD in early June, 13 weeks after its debut in theaters.

Several people familiar with the matter said this doesn't signal a wholesale policy change by the studio, but rather an exception to past practices that Disney would seek a couple of times a year, when it makes sense for everyone.

News of Disney's plans for "Alice" were first reported this week by industry trade papers the Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

-- Claudia Eller and Dawn Chmielewski