Alice In Chains

Alice was wondering where all the profits had gone.

Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland was meant to be a major event for the Director. Apparently a slight re-imagining of the story, Burton has talked in grandiose terms about his aims for the film and his joy at working with both Johnny Depp and wife Helena Bonham Carter again. What a shame for the director then, that his latest off-beat production has turned into the ball in a game of corporate big-boy tennis.

On face value, Disney seem to have cast themselves as tyrannical villain of the piece. At the very least it seems clear that they started this playground argument which centres around whether they can release the DVD of the film just thirteen weeks after its cinematic debut, rather than the usual seventeen. It is a move that has angered the cinemas, cast as the small boys on the lot, who claim the shortening of the release window will see a fall in their revenues. All three (Vue, Odeon and Cineworld) of the major UK cinemas have been vocal in their dislike of Disney's decision but only one (Odeon) seemed destined to follow through with their threat to boycott the release, originally only agreeing to host the premiere of the film at their Leceister Square venue.

Odeon's statement of yesterday correctly identifies the threat to the industry's takings if they were to cave in to the studio's pressure. After this it would be open warfare. Not only would the mouse be able to stomp all over the cinemas but MGM's Lion and... erm... Dreamworks fishing boy dude, would also be able to set their own ever-narrowing release windows, leading, Odeon feel, to an eventual standard twelve week window. The chain also have an argument ready against Disney's claim that the shortening would help combat piracy, pointing out that they have invested vast sums in installing 3D equipment in their cinemas, another supposed tool to claim back cinema from Internet pirateers.

But slowly the cinemas have caved in to the studio pressure with both Vue and Cineworld revealing that 'a deal' had been reached earlier in the week. One must assume that this deal is overtly money related.

Of course, in the end, that is what the entire argument boils down to (a fact barely hidden beneath the surface in the opening paragraph of this article). The Times reports that DVD sales fell last year whilst cinema sales rose by a similar percentage amount. This has led to a general feeling amongst the cinemas that the studios are asking them to pay for their failings in DVD releases with their success in bringing themselves back from the brink of falling ticket sales a few years ago.

The argument is a rather ugly reminder that whilst we as cinema-goers and DVD-watchers see an end product, film is, ultimately, an industry which like any other, must make a profit for someone, somewhere. On face value, Odeon are the moral victors of this particular battle, holding out as they did until what is perceived to be the last possible moment, but by settling early, Vue and Cineworld appeared to put themselves in the best position to win the war.

If that campaigning triumph for the latter two proves to be a pyric victory though, distributing films at lower prices for lower profits in the future, then the moral high road could also lead to a sole profitable victor further down the line. Taking Disney out of the debate for a second, Odeon appear to be the person that blinked last in the staring contest and we can only speculate about what the conclusions of the 'late night meetings' on Wednesday were. Presumably though, someone, somewhere at Odeon had done their maths on what percentage take of the box office would offset the loss of revenues predicted to come from the shorter release window. It seems a logical conclusion therefore that given their apparent willingness to boycott the film, that number was substantially higher than the one the bean counters at Vue and Cineworld came up with.

In the end, I suspect no more nor less people will see Alice at the cinema now than before the argument started and if that is the case then it is Odeon, not Disney, who may well have set a new precedent for profitable film distribution.


  1. I've been reading about this some recently but for the most part is just sounds like such a stupid thing, with all parties included. I don't get why Disney wants to do it, I see no real benefit to it, and the theaters know they have no real control over it, except to plea.

  2. The reason why I'm not sure this will have much of an effect is that surely most cinema viewings happen in the first couple of weeks. Shortening the window by a few weeks at the other end can't effect takings that much.

    Plus will a shorter cinema window really equal more DVD sales? I'm not sure I see the correlation there.

    As I say, I think the end winners are the cinemas, Odeon in particular, who will probably have negotiated a higher percentage on the ticket take or funding aid for the 3d equipment, in return for a shorter run time.

  3. Only so many people are going to see the movie, dvd sales or in theater. I don't see how changing various parameters such as when the DVD is released affects the total number.

  4. I agree Castor but I think the motivation behind it comes from the fact studios receive a higher percentage from DVD sales than they do from cinema sales.

    Disney are trying to swing the balance in their favour in terms of how the split of viewers for the film falls but as I say, I don't see how shortening the window will have much of an effect.

    Interestingly the CEO of Odeon was on the radio this morning claiming that although Disney had 'got what they wanted', Odeon had got 'several things' that they wanted. Would love to know the details of that deal.