February 10, 2010 / 5:54 AM / 8 years ago

Disney aims to shorten big-screen run for "Alice"

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Bob Iger wasn't bluffing. The Disney CEO has been telling Wall Street for months of his plans for studio executives to shorten traditional movie release schedules, and it appears the time has arrived for the first grand experiment.

A day after the revelation that UK exhibitors are being asked to accept a tightened theatrical window for Disney's spring feature "Alice in Wonderland," The Hollywood Reporter has learned that U.S. theater owners have been similarly approached.

Normally, movies play in first-run theaters for up to 16 weeks. Disney is talking about a theatrical run of just under 13 weeks for "Alice," a 3D motion-capture/live-action fantasy directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.

The studio would benefit from truncating the theatrical run because the movie, with its family-friendly subject matter and well-known cast, is well positioned to do big success as a home entertainment title. The quicker Disney can get it into DVD and Blu-ray Disc release, the better for its bottom line.

It's likely that Disney also will accelerate the availability of "Alice" on video-on-demand, which home-entertainment executives have come to view as less of a threat to DVD/Blu-ray income and more as a complementary revenue stream.

Exhibitors have made it clear that they need a compensating upside from the moves. Less clear is how the studio will provide such a benefit, but film-rental terms are always subject to some negotiating.

These days, most releases come with "aggregate" terms. In such cases, distributors and exhibitors agree to split box office by a set percentage of a film's entire run, with up to 55 percent going into studio coffers on pricey high-profile releases. But on some pictures, studios still pencil in a growing share for exhibitors during the course of a run. It's possible that Disney will use such an approach to offer a sweeter-than-usual early taste of the receipts for theater owners in exchange for their agreeing to book the film for a truncated theatrical run.

In any event, exhibitors are getting assurances that Disney will proceed cautiously in broadening its experiment to future movie releases.

Disney's sales job in the U.K., where it sought to lop as much as five weeks from its regional run, was a bit easier. European theater owners know the theatrical market will be squeezed greatly when the soccer World Cup kicks off in June.

Meanwhile, another benefit of the shorter theatrical run for "Alice" -- set to unspool worldwide March 5 in a combination of 2D and 3D venues -- would be its freeing up 3D screens for other extra-dimensional features, including Warner Bros.' April 2 release "Clash of the Titans."

For Iger, who's been trying to reinvigorate the Disney film studio through a major executive shuffle, changes to traditional release windows simply are a matter of maximizing studio profits. As recently as Tuesday, the Disney topper mused during an earnings conference that window experiments might be a way of improving the studio's bottom line.

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