Following this week’s confirmation that Odeon will not be showing Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in their cinemas (story here), there has been a bit of a public backlash against the cinema chain for making this decision. In view of this, i feel compelled to offer some words in defence of the action Odeon have chosen to take. In a nutshell, the dispute has been caused by Disney’s decision to shorten the delay of the DVD release of Alice from 18 weeks after cinematic run to 12.

On the surface, this appears to be fairly innocuous, and the actions of Odeon petty and selfish. What should be made clear, however, is what this is actually about. It’s the first tentative steps on the road to simultaneous format release. The belief is that, at some point in the future, movies will be released in theatres, on home video format, and online on the very same day. There are several reasons for doing this.

Studios favourite current justification appears to be to combat piracy. It’s thought that the availability of home formats immediately upon release will greatly diminish demand for pirated copies of movies. Whilst there is logic behind this, the truth is there will always be people willing to watch a lesser quality copy of a film at a lower price, and no shortage of criminals prepared to supply these copies. The availability of high definition copies of these films will in fact increase the quality of pirated versions, and make the whole exercise that much easier.

The idea of simultaneous release is very beneficial to us as a consumer of course. We have a choice of formats, we can watch the movies everyone is talking about without having to travel to theatres, and we don’t have to wait to own our favourite films. In this scenario, then, the biggest losers are the cinema chains. Many people will point out that seeing a movie on the big screen is the best way to experience any movie, particularly 3D movies as in the case of Alice, and so attendances won’t actually drop that much.

I don’t fully agree with this. Yes, going out to watch a film is a popular social past time, and with the growing popularity of 3D and Imax there will be compelling reasons to choose to watch in theatres over living rooms. But we are living in a society that is becoming increasingly geared towards convenience. We went from TV dinners, to takeaway, to microwave meals. Where we once walked around shopping centres to buy the things we wanted, we started catalogue shopping. This made way for Internet shopping of clothes, furniture, weekly groceries and, yes, movies. I used to walk to Blockbuster to rent DVD’s. Then i joined Lovefilm, and only had to walk to the postbox. Now i switch on my PS3, and just click the controller. It’s in our nature to take the easy option.

Not necessarily even out of laziness either. In a time of environmental crisis, war and spreading super-virus, our time is precious to us now more than ever. Weighing up the hassle of travelling to the cinema, the time it takes, and the need to adhere to their timetable with the convenience of simply clicking a mouse and watching a movie at a time convenient to you, and the ability to pause and finish watching at a later date, i think the latter will win out for far more people than you’d think. There’s little in this world within our control, which is why we take all that we can. Also precious to us is our money. £15 for two people to watch a film once in a cinema, or £15 for unlimited numbers to watch it as many times as they want on DVD. It’s a matter of simple economics.

Odeon’s decision is also based on economic realities. Yes, the situation I’ve described here is some way off, and bringing forward the DVD release by six weeks will have considerably less financial impact. But it will HAVE an impact. Figures will go down by some small percentage, particularly considering Jon’s discovery that the DVD release is already being promoted.

Theatrical attendances are up, and on the surface cinemas should be doing well. They are however subject to the same financial uncertainty as the rest of us in the current economic environment. This situation, combined with the ongoing financial wrangling over the upgrading of current projectors to digital, gives cinema chains good reason to take steps to protect their bottom line. Every company, however big, has a right to protect their livelihood, which is why i stand behind Odeon’s decision.

It’s also the reason why i won’t condemn Disney – they’re simply doing the same. Negotiation is a part of doing business, disagreements inevitable, and this is in effect Odeon’s industrial action. The audience is the big loser, and ironically the big winners are Vue and Cineworld. Without the competition of Odeon, and with the publicity caused by the situation, all showings of Alice in Wonderland are almost guaranteed sell-outs.

Remember, it’s a 3D movie based on a well known property, with a bankable star and a director who still has name value the world over. It has the potential for huge box office, and Odeon stands to lose out financially in its bid to help secure its continuing livelihood. I say good luck to them.

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