Fox won't yield to U.K. exhib protest

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LONDON -- 20th Century Fox on Thursday said it has no plans to lengthen the window between theatrical and DVD release for "Night at the Museum" despite a decision by the major U.K. exhibition chains to pull the picture from theaters.

The major U.K. theater operators, including Odeon and Vue, while remaining tight-lipped officially, have united in a show of strength against 20th Century Fox's decision to shorten the release window for the Ben Stiller comedy.

Both are pulling the picture from theaters in the wake of Fox's decision to collapse release windows to just 13 weeks between the movie's theatrical run and its proposed DVD release.

But 20th Century Fox said it was not planning to change its release strategy in reaction to the pressure from the exhibitors. The studio's position stands in stark contrast to its recent moves in Germany to settle a similar dispute.

"We are not going to change the window for ('Museum')," said Christian Grass, Fox executive vp for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "The decision taken on the window for this movie is based on seasonality and is a one-off. It was a Christmas release (in the U.K.) and we want to release it on DVD for Easter."

Grass pointed to the fact that the biggest loser in this scenario were moviegoers who want to see the film on the big screen here. "These are unique circumstances and we do not want to collapse the windows," Grass emphasized. "Our (excellent) track record with windows speak for itself."

A spokesperson for Odeon Cinemas, the U.K.' s largest movie theater operator, with more than 840 screens at 110 sites, offered no official comment on the situation that will see the movie, currently occupying the No. 4 spot in the British top 10, shunted from its screens Friday.

Vue Cinemas, another power player on the U.K. cinema scene with 59 multiplex sites, also pulling "Museum" from its circuit Friday. A spokesman for Vue declined comment on the dispute.

The movie, which has taken more than £20 million ($39.3 million) to date at the U.K. boxoffice since its release five weeks ago, is still taking in a reasonably healthy £2,000 ($2,900) per screen.

But there are no window agreements in the U.K. between content providers and exhibitors.

The move here follows hot-on-the-heels of Fox's settling a similar dispute with local theater chains in Germany (HR 1/31) after they had pulled Fox titles "Museum" and "John Tucker Must Die" from their schedules.

At issue in Germany was the local DVD release of "Eragon." Fox had planned to bow the fantasy title in Germany on March 19, just three months after its German theatrical bow. Exhibitors demanded Fox postpone the release, claiming the earlier date would cut into boxoffice revenue.

When Fox stuck to its plan, German exhibitors -- including leading multiplex operators Cinestar, CinemaxX, Kinopolis, UCI and Cineplex -- pulled all Fox titles from their theaters.
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