In what is becoming a test case, the news being reported that the UK’s biggest cinema chains, a group consisting of Vue, Cineworld and Odeon, are threatening to boycott Disney’s forthcoming Tim Burton film Alice in Wonderland over a reduction in the time delay between the cinematic release and the home entertainment release,  is timely and may have consequences for the future of industry.

I can remember the advent of high street video stores, with their gaudy selections of TV movies and chewed up versions of classics hidden among the video nasties on a shelf bereft of the blockbusters we had wanted to rent. I remember finding out that to buy a copy of Return of the Jedi would set us back £80 at least and, for a while, that was the only (legal) way to have a copy to keep. So much has changed since then and the plummeting prices of DVD and the gradual acceptance of Blu-ray means that the DVD/BD sales are a huge boost to the studios, very much relied upon to grab back some of the escalting budgets in play.

Disney’s decision to pursue a 12 week gap between cinema release and the film’s appearance on home video formats (from the usual 18 weeks) has the nation’s cinema chains up in arms. Internet piracy may be blamed for the substantial fall in home entertainment mark, 20% last year according to the Times, but the major cinema owners are reluctant to limit the length of time for which a trip to their cinemas will be the only way to see the latest films.

Alice in Wonderland is a particularly interesting first case as, thanks to the success of Avatar, the 3D aspect will be pushing to the fore (pun not exactly intended), thus some of the cinema chains will make even more money and it will be in their interest to keep the DVD/BD release back as far as possible to allow people to see, and crucially re-see, the films in their cinemas. It is the perfect counter arguement to the notion that some people will just wait for the DVD release if there’s only a few months in it – 3D can, so far, only be seen in the cinemas. And as the cinema chains contending this point own roughly 90% of the 3D screens in the country, they have a great deal to bargain with.

There’s very little chance that Disney will allow the film to go unseen in the UK, but this impasse may lead the way for other releases and you can bet that other studios, who presumably are behind Disney with the 12 week gap, will be watching this one intently. There are few films capable of survive the tailing off of audience figures, an effect Avatar has not suffered from until now, but citing  piracy or sporting events like the World Cup as reasons for pulling a film early may be denying people the chance to enjoy the film on the big screen.

For my money I’ll always want to see the film as it was intended, in the cinema, in 3D or not, and then if it’s a good film I’ll buy it when it’s out. Personally I want to see Alice on the big screen, and in 3D, and while I understand that DVD/BD sales are important the reduction may lead to fewer people seeking these films out on the big screen.

Of course, it’s all a money issue, with neither side wanting to give up their stake it is the audience, or more prosaically the consumer, that will be affected. Looking at it in black and white terms there is no way I’d give up the opportunity to see Alice on the big screen for the privilege of owning it a few weeks early, but my voice, and yours, in unlikely to be heard in this bickering.

What do you think?

The Times have this article and The Guardian have this one, both are worth a read.