Exhibition has enjoyed much success in recent years,
with admissions in 2002 and 2003 higher than those in
any other year since 1957. Though we got off to a slower
start in 2004, strength of product for the rest of the
year looks encouraging.
While the growth in admissions is certainly
worthy of celebration, other ongoing trends cause us only
concern. One of these is the dramatic recent reduction
of the theatrical-to-video windows.
Consider the numbers. According to NATO’s
comprehensive tracking of all titles released by the home
of the nine largest studios, the video/DVD release window
shrank more in the year 2003 than during any other year
in the last decade. Below are the average video release
windows by year.
More recently, several studios made distribution
decisions on Oscar-nominated pictures that challenge the
of theatrical release to an even greater degree. Sony decided
to release “Something’s Gotta Give” on
video and DVD three months and 18 days after its theatrical
break. Similarly, DreamWorks slated “House of Sand
and Fog,” another nominated picture, for video/DVD
release three months and 11 days after its theatrical opening.
This causes me concern for two reasons.
First, these pictures were good enough to be nominated
for Oscars. Second, the
companies releasing these two pictures have the shortest
average 2003 video windows. Though the industry average
stood at four months and 23 days during last year, Sony’s
average for all pictures came in at four months and seven
days, and Dreamworks’ average was four months and
one day. For purposes of comparison, the complete studio
roster of averages for 2003 is set forth below.
These numbers strongly suggest that different
studios maintain very different philosophies about release
should understand these differences and take them into
account in their own individual business relationships.
As your trade association, our role on an issue like this
is to track the records and give you the information.
We live in a free market, without a very
heavy hand from our government. In some other countries,
establishes release window parameters. In France, for example,
the media chronology for video/DVD is set by law. Currently,
that window is fixed at six months. In other countries
overseas, the free market governs and many foreign exhibitors
operate in the shadow of video/DVD windows much shorter
than ours here in the United States. Indeed, one leading
international distributor recently suggested a possible
window overseas of 2.5 months (a suggestion that has prompted
significant backlash from exhibitors overseas).
To be sure, some of our members have reminded
me that theatrical runs are getting shorter and shorter
each year and, thus,
the shortened video/DVD windows may not be encroaching
on theatrical box office as much as we might presume. Perhaps.
But I have two concerns with that philosophy. First, two “wrongs” don’t
make a “right.” Moreover, the squeezed schedule
means that some of our members don’t get the pictures
at all. Indeed, with the two nominated pictures referenced
above, some of our smaller members had been promised subsequent
runs only to lose out to the newly announced video/DVD
I welcome the dialogue on this important
issue, and encourage all exhibitors to at least arm yourself
with the facts.
Know your distributors and their records.