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Why everyone is so animated about Disney

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Will Gompertz | 17:17 UK time, Thursday, 25 February 2010

So, the Odeon cinema chain has relented and agreed to show Alice in Wonderland, Disney's new Tim Burton-directed 3D movie. What has all the fuss been about, and does it affect you and me?

Tenniel's image of AliceThere are lots of reasons, all of which boil down to one thing: money. Disney presented its new Alice movie to cinema-owners worldwide with a "drink me" new idea. This was to reduce the time the cinemas had exclusive rights to show the film, known as the "exhibition window" - no DVD sales, no video-on-demand (VoD), no pay-per-view television - from roughly four months to three months. The cinema owners took one look at the idea and chose not to swallow it, fearing that their businesses would be reduced to the size of the door Alice walked through.

At first, all the cinema-owners in the UK stood firm and refused to screen the film. Then one relented, leaving the others with the prospect of seeing their rival cash in. That proved even harder to swallow than Disney's idea.

But the fear remains among cinema-owners that this is the thin end of the wedge. They worry that the end-game for the studios is not simply a three-month exhibition window on the occasional movie. They worry that it's not even a three-month window for every movie. Their fear is that this is a step towards "day-and-date" releasing. That's the trade term for releasing the theatrical version, the DVD, VoD and pay-per-view TV all at the same time.

Tim Burton's AliceThese are the points being debated:

Argument: DVD sales are not making as much money as they used to; an extra month's sales while the film is still fresh in the consumer's mind will help reverse this trend.
Counter-argument: Reducing the exhibition window by a month won't make any difference to overall DVD sales

Argument: The costs of marketing a film are huge. The costs of marketing a DVD are pretty big, too. If you release them together, you reduce marketing costs.
Counter-argument: DVD sales will cannibalise the box-office taking, resulting in a much-reduced return to the studio.

Argument: Piracy has a negative effect on DVD sales. Reducing the exhibition window by a month will help reduce piracy.
Counter-argument: Piracy is a problem, but it peaks very early in a film's run; a one-month reduction in the exhibition window will have little effect.

Argument: If the consumer can buy the film on DVD, VoD or pay-per-view, they won't come to cinemas.
Counter-argument: People go to restaurants when they can eat at home; they go to pubs when they can drink at home; they will still go to cinemas. Only a tiny minority has a home cinema of anything like comparable quality to that of an Odeon or Vue.

Argument: People like going out, they like a shared experience.
Shortening the exhibition window will harm smaller regional cinemas which only receive the print of the film some weeks after the release.
Counter-argument: As above. Also, with more and more digital cinemas likely to appear, the issue of a limited amount of prints is removed.

Ritz cinemaEveryone I have spoken to in the industry thinks it is inevitable that the exhibition window will be reduced, maybe ending up as brief as two weeks. But some have questioned Disney's timing and reasoning and whether the firm will actually see an increase in DVD sales. They suggest a better time for the move would be when VoD becomes the home-movie medium of choice. To cause a fuss now, after the success of Avatar and the clear consumer interest in 3D, will mean those investors who had been preparing to make significant financial commitment to building and renovating cinemas will be scared away.

Two outcomes present themselves. The first is consumer-orientated and technology-driven, which means giving the customers what they want, when they want it, on whichever medium suits them best. The logical conclusion here is day-and-date. Cinemas would just have to trust that there are still enough people who choose their medium and enable them to make money. The studios, who have invested heavily in making the movie, are relaxed about which medium the customer watches it on, just so long as they pay for the privilege.

The other model is France, where there are rules and regulations that stipulate that the exhibition window last four months (it used to be six), a position that the regulations' advocates feel protects cinema. But some argue, with piracy and digital dissemination in the ascendency, will such an inflexible position mean that they have lots of cinemas but nothing to show in them?


  • Comment number 1.

    maybe the deal should include the cinema marketing the dvd release and getting a weeks exclusive sales deal before the shops. i am more concerned about the price of popcorn and queues and the electronic ticket machines always out of order. perhaps the cinemas need to look at their own problems first

  • Comment number 2.

    I stopped going to the cinema 20 years ago when I found the volume too loud and the adverts too long. I recently took my grandchildren to see 'Christmas Carol' It was a wonderful experiance, except there were still too many adverts and it was still too loud. Ill wait for the DVD's in future.

  • Comment number 3.

    There is, of course, another logical extreme: Day and date releasing with a licence to enjoy the film in any and every medium, for a premium price. In other words, a consumer would buy the right to watch a movie, and they could choose whether to do so in a cinema (during its cinematic run), at home through VOD or a DVD, on their phone, etc.

    As consumer, it's quite infuriating that media content is sold to me many, many times over. VHS was replaced after 20 years by DVD, DVD is replaced after 10 years by Blueray, and Blueray will probably be replaced after 5 years by something else. Records have been replaced by CDs, CDs by MP3s, etc. - and as the hardware is not designed to last longer than 2-3 years, each time they update the medium, consumers have to buy the same content all over again. No wonder most people see nothing wrong with piracy - they're tired of being fleeced.

    If I really like a movie (or song), I'd be willing to pay a premium price to future proof my experience thereof. Choosing between paying £8 for a cinema ticket, £10 for a DVD, £15 for a Bluray disc, £12 for a download, £3.50 for an online rental, £1.99 for a DVD rental, £7 for a mobile phone version etc. is, frankly, not enough, nor even what I want. Why can't I choose to pay £18 and own the right to watch the film when I want, where I want, how I want, on whatever medium I want? And if HD is replaced by super-HD in 2015, I'd have the right to get a copy of the movie in that format, too. It's the move / song / content I'm after, not the medium!

  • Comment number 4.

    Let's put it this way. Anyone who wants to go and see a film at the cinema WILL go and see it at the cinema. Anyone who wants the DVD/Bluray/whatever WILL buy it at some time (whether it be at release or months or years later).

    Seeing a film on the big screen is an experience (some of which i don't enjoy, but I won't go into that), which cannot be exactly replicated at home. And I'll continue to go no matter the time window for a film, not unless I suddenly spring millions and can afford my own house with a large cinema room all to myself.

  • Comment number 5.

    Sigh. Money again. When do we actually get on to the 'Arts' stuff?

  • Comment number 6.

    A well projected film at a cinema is a great experience, but several times recently when I have been to blockbuster releases the film has been shown out of focus or misaligned so that part of the next frame can be seen at the bottom of the screen. When I have complained about this I have been told that there is only one projectionist on duty (this at a 12 screen multiplex (Vue).

    I really think that the cinemas whole business model is self defeating. They are charging a lot of money to watch often poorly presented films, and wasting their customers time with up to half an hour of unneccesary adverts and trailers, whilst at the same time charging ridiculous prices for food and drinks.

    In short, if theres no money to be made in running cinemas then the owners should come clean, rather than operating short staffed and ripping people off.

  • Comment number 7.

    AndrewMe: You beat me to it!
    If cinemas have trouble making ends meet by selling popcorn, why not let them also sell the DVDs of the films that they're currently showing?

    So the scenario would be that you see a film, you really like it, and as you're wandering out into the daylight, you have a once-only chance to buy the special "Cinema Edition" DVD by handing over your (today's) ticket and paying your money. The staff then stamp the DVD case with the cinema details and time and date (or stamp a sticker), and you get a timed and dated momento to put on your shelf to remind you of the cinema visit. It makes the visit more memorable, it gives a DVD-collecting customer a reason to go to the cinema, and it gives the cinema something for their staff to sell that makes more money than popcorn, that encourages repeat custom.

    And can you think of a better moment to sell someone a DVD than minutes after they've just watched it for the first time on the big screen? Cimemas have all those those film enthusiasts on their premises, who are //preselected// for their interest in that particular movie, and are still on a high from havign seen it, and at the critical moment when all these people who like this film have reached their peak of enthusiasm for it, and are walking straight past the cinema till ... cinemas just let all these excited potential customers walk straight out through the door.
    It shouldn't be too taxing to have maybe three to five different DVDs on sale, to match up with the current programme. If something's a surprise hit and the cinema run out of stock, staff can take the order, stamp the sticker, and have the DVD sent on.

    Sounds like a money-spinner to me.

  • Comment number 8.

    All these issues about release dates are in fact moot. If you want people to go to the movies more a good start would be to address the following issues :

    - too many adverts,
    - badly educated kids + parents,
    - variable screen sizes,
    - no (car)park and watch schemes,
    - credit card surcharges,
    - lack of public transport options for many megaplexes,
    - unreasonable prices of popped corn, candy and soft drinks
    - queues
    - adverts, adverts and adverts there are too many of them

    Tackle these problems and it wouldn't even matter if the dvd/vod came out first.

  • Comment number 9.

    With the rise of the home cinema, the likes of ODEAN no longer have the captive market they once had. The cinemas need to wake up and realise people are no longer willing to pay £10+ for a movie they can easily watch at home. Fair enough, their may be some of us willing to pay a little extra to 'see it first' but why not reduce the price nearer to the DVD release date and get many more of us through the doors.

  • Comment number 10.

    To add yet more downsides of Cinemas to the many already posted...
    - That lovely feeling as you walk into the auditorium that if you pause you will stick to the cola impregnated carpet
    - The smell of old popcorn and urine
    - the over priced tickets

    If they had some idea of customer service they might attract people..

  • Comment number 11.

    This is a good question!

    People who love Film want good stories and good scripts, variety of films (Animation, Genre, Foreign, Blockbuster) and innovations (3D etc). The Cinema Experience is still the first choice to watch the very best films, for many people as well as making a big event/night out of it with a bunch of friends & family.

    IMAX and Independent Cinemas are another type of cinema as well as the multiplexes that people can choose for another type of cinema experience.

    Some positives: More Films produced (611 in 2008), Shorter DVD release time than the greedy old rip-off model, cheaper and affordable prices of DVD (eg no longer the stupid rip-off price of £19.99 but a respectable £6/7 quid). And Piracy for those that want to watch a lot of movies that they feel a cinema ticket is too much for.

    Habits of Cinema goers: Some love to go regularly, others for specific genres according to tastes and demographics and others only for the very best films. Habits of Piracy: Most downloads towards the beginning of the film's theatre release, Blockbusters downloaded by majority young males who are tech-savvy and special-effects hungry, but overall piracy slowly rising across the world. Also if people really like a film, they are still likely to want to actually purchase it (proofing) which raises these films dvd sales back up.

    Hard to draw conclusions, but Disney appear to be forcing the reduction in DVD release time that could "run-away" with even more reductions across all future releases which will DAMAGE the perception of CINEMAS' APPEAL, I would hazard guessing. The French Model of at least 3/4 months is a good idea imo and something Cinemas should stipulate with Production Companies such as Disney who are acting with very short-sighted self-interest by trying to squeeze forward dvd sales and ramp out even more films to combat piracy at the sake of damaging a film's CINEMA appeal: People are lazy and if it's out on dvd will consider the film is devalued and not CURRENT any longer. The small tale-end of film releases still adds up cumulatively for cinemas also.

    Just take AVATAR, as an example of cinema as a perception of a film experience with unique EVENT STATUS and SOCIAL SHARING. Cinemas require this perception as well as the actual unique experience of grand screens and quality environment for crowds to share a night out at the movies, away from homes. This is part of cinemas BIG SELL while people make their minds up, SLOWLY!! As soon as it is on DVD, it's even shorter life-span towards the "bargain bucket" - WHERE DVD's GO TO DIE.

    The staggering is important for cinemas and Disney should be boycotted by cinemas and joe & jane public.

  • Comment number 12.

    I very, very rarely buy DVDs - why should I, at the price they come out at, when I can go to the cinema and see it on a big screen with fantastic sound? I don't own a huge TV or a good sound system and the cinema is one of my few remaining social pleasures.
    Reducing the running time at the cinema does concern me, because sometimes I want to see a film but, for various reasons, am not able to for a while (I only managed to see Avatar last week due to financial issues preventing me from seeing it sooner).

    In all eventuality, all this will do is mean less people see it in the end, which is really just sad.

  • Comment number 13.

    The impact of technology is an interesting factor to consider in all of this... The resurgence (and recent successes) of 3D films have obviously boosted cinemas greatly in terms of footfall (and overpriced popcorn sales!!). With such a wide range of viewing platforms available, the cinema box office is no longer the main revenue stream for most films. However, while 3D technology isn't widely available outside cinemas, the cinema screenings once again become more relevant and important to studios.
    These major US studios hold so much power over the distribution of the majority of the films we see in the cinemas- It doesn't make sense for the main UK cinema chains to get into disputes with studios such as Disney. The Hollywood studios hold the economic power to rewrite the exhibition window rules in order to maximize their own profits. It's interesting to see the business models being reworked with a new wave of high-tech filmmaking and to see how the symbiosis between (film) arts and economics continues.

    Will- Really enjoying this blog; thank you. I do hope you're finding the time to write a second Fringe show though!

  • Comment number 14.

    Stevo! (where's the recommendation button around here?)

    I think the best thing that could happen to cinemas is the creation of theme streets. A Wimpy Bar, Lyons on the corner, rock and chips twice, wrapped in Sunday Peoples, dark, frothy beer in knobbly jugs, and folk calling each other, e our pet. It would always be raining when you came out and all boys under 15 would be required to wear short trousers and run up and down the street. Hats outdoors would be obligatory by law.

    I struggle to find enthusiasm for the big mainstream screen. Or buying DVDs for that matter - it's not like listening to your favourite music, is it? How often can you stand a repeat of the same film before you start unconsciously nodding and dribbling on the sofa? I'll tell you; twice a year, tops! Join a lending service, watch more films, build fewer shelves.

    Disney?!! Don't get me started on them....

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    7. At 8:24pm on 25 Feb 2010, Eric Baird wrote: gives the cinema something for their staff to sell that makes more money than popcorn
    Nothing could possibly make more money than the popcorn.

  • Comment number 17.

    Information1st if, as you suggest, cinema is still the first choice then shortening DVD windows shouldn't have an effect. What I think you are implying is that a certain amount of social engineering should be in place to preserve the value of cinema. Which I don't agree with for a number of reasons.

    Firstly this is all about money, the reason these multiple windows exist (Cinema release, followed by DVD and PPV, followed by Pay TV and then finally free to air) is to manage and maximise revenue opportunities for a film over several years.

    The studio's view is that with 3D now derigeur for the high grossing blockbusters Cineama has rediscovered it's USP, which for a time was fading due to high penetration of large flat screens in the homes. It also provides the opportunity for Cinemas to charge a premium for the experience. Invaribaly this means that the smaller lower budget releases get sidelined by both cinemas eager to maximise returns and studios who need to focus on recouping costs for producing these blockbusters. This is where focusing marketing activity down to smaller windows for both cineama and DVD releases will be extremely beneficial for the smaller releases.

    It is understandable that cinemas want to protect their business model, but equally understandable that studios (and for that matter all content producers) who risk an awful lot of money on the movies would like to make sure at the very least they make that money back and in changing times they are investigating ways to adapt their business models to the new realities. It is not in the studios interest to see cinema fade as it is an important source of both revenue and marketing potential for them, but there is perception that cinema has been slow to change with the times, favouring a protectionist approach over adapting the way they operate and their pricing model.

    A friend recently took his family to the cinema it cost him nearly £50, a hefty price to pay to see a film by anyone's standards and the reason cinema recipts are up but numbers going to the cinema are in general down (save for the spike generated by Avatar.) Cinema operator's need to realise thir current model is outdated and look at new approaches rather than pointing the finger at studios who are meerly trying to move with the times

  • Comment number 18.

    Dont see the problem myself, I cant think of many times I have seen a film that is 16 weeks old being shown at either my local cinema or the larger odean (s) in either of the neighbouring towns.

  • Comment number 19.

    In my opinion, it this will have little effect on cinema revenues, but it will have a negative impact on new DVD releases.

    Speaking of my own preferences and being an avid movie goer, I already find the period between a cinema and DVD release to be too short. Having just watched a movie in the cinema, I have little or no interest in watching the very same movie just 2-3 months later (unless it was truly amazing, which is rare). Typically, I wait at least six months before watching the same movie, but usually even longer.

    I believe that overall sales of cinema tickets and home mediums will remain just about the same, but immediate release revenues on DVDs will suffer.

  • Comment number 20.

    james #17 That's as good a description of the reality of this commercial decision as I've seen without further numbers to hand.

    Invariably it does come down to money & securing returns on investments and in this digital environment the studios are speeding the turn-over and volume of movies produced right up to deflect the effects of piracy (dvds, cinemas) and home-entertainment systems (cinemas). It's good that the overall sequestering is reduced from the incredibly greedy old model that was all about ripping customers off and the more competitive environment should push cinemas towards improved service and value for money, as well, it's also hoped as people mention above.

    But I hope the reduction does not become an avalanche and cinemas do have a say on how long the dvd window is staged after the theatrical release because I suggest a good number of people will be more persuaded to go to the cinema to watch a film based on the longer duration until it becomes officially available on dvd at which point the culture has moved on to "the next thing". I think people/culture should drive the marketing of the film as much as the the other way around which is always to maximise profits and move on to the next film, as soon as possible. In this respect I see some merit in France's choice, knowing how sensitive they are concerning their Ministry Of Culture, I think they are seeing a longer-term view on this, than the UK is.

  • Comment number 21.

    5. At 8:14pm on 25 Feb 2010, Stevo wrote:
    Sigh. Money again. When do we actually get on to the 'Arts' stuff?

    We wont. Despite what the column purports to be about, its about getting a new name on the BBC website under a banner that no one else cares about.
    I would love to see more on the arts here on the BBC. Yes, Cinema is an art, but not many would compare Alice in 3D to the Mona Lisa...

  • Comment number 22.

    To me it does come down to money, but not in the way the cinemas are arguing. With ticket prices the way they are now there's little difference between the cost of a cinema ticket and the cost of a DVD. Why would I pay £8 to see a film once when I can wait a few months and pay £10 to see it as many times as I want. I make the odd exception for films with high end visual effects that would be worth seeing on the big screen but apart from that I rarely bother with the cinema any more, which is a shame

  • Comment number 23.

    How about a compromise of sorts? Maybe the cinemas could be the exclusive vendors of the dvds before everywhere else? or maybe there could be some sort of money off voucher if you retain your cinema ticket and then buy the dvd when it is released? the two business sectors should work together to come up with a good compromise rather than working against each other.

  • Comment number 24.

    If the larger cinemas could sort out their showing/service problems, they wouldn't have a problem.
    The last 2 films I have seen have been free due to free tickets given to make up for problems in the previous film.

    Yet I'll drive over 160 miles (each way!) to see a film at the Electric in Birmingham, just for the experience/atmosphere. Even if I have seen the film before.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    If only going to the cinema was a good experience. Every cinema in London (except the Odeon Leceister Square) has been split up into small cinemas, some with screens so small they're more difficult to see than a TV screen. Cinema owners need to make going to the cinema a better experience if they want to entice more people to see a film at their cinemas rather than renting it/buying it on DVD. I've also been given free tickets because of problems with films: the smell of wine and vomit when I took my sons to see a Disney film, showing the wrong film and the ushers insisting it was correct.

  • Comment number 27.

    Having paid £26 for two cinema tickets at the weekend, its no wonder the last time I went was 5 or 6 years ago. Price included 'premiums' for booking fee, pre-assigned seats, 3D glasses.

    Bought lots of DVDs and Blurays in the meantime though...

  • Comment number 28.

    Ikarus I think has got it spot on. I/we pay for the right to watch a film/listen to music. What it is played on shouldnt matter. Why should I repay for something that I own. I understand that an upgrade say from vhs to dvd is a huge step. But those huge steps have now been removed. What we all purchase these days is a sting of 1/0's so the format should not matter.

    As for going to the cinema, I have 3m screen at home (showing off I know) that doesnt stop me from going to the cinema. All it does is make me moan that I pay far far too much for popcorn and a vat of cola that i dont finish!

  • Comment number 29.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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