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Disney’s decision to drop a French theatrical release for Strange World and put Don Hall’s animated action-adventure movie directly onto its streaming platform Disney+ in the territory has French exhibitors up in arms.
France’s National Cinema Federation (FNCF) protested the move on Wednesday, calling it “a losing choice for everyone” that would “seriously undermine the economy of cinemas and the sector as a whole.”
Strange World was set to hit French cinemas on Nov. 23, but Disney pulled the release, citing the country’s strict windowing regulations, which require a 17-month period between a film’s theatrical release and its debut on a streaming platform in France.
The regulations, which Disney has called “cumbersome” and “anti-consumer,” also limit that first VOD window to just five months. After that, the film shifts to a 14-month, exclusive free-TV window. Only then, fully 36 months after its theatrical debut, can the movie move back to Disney+. That compares to an average window of around 45 days between theatrical release and SVOD bow in most territories worldwide.
France changed its windowing laws in January, shrinking the theatrical-to-streaming window from 36 months to “just” 15 months, on the condition that distributors invest a portion of their revenue in French theatrical content. Netflix agreed to the French deal. Disney did not.
In a statement, Disney said the new regulations ignore how consumer behavior “has evolved over the last several years” and that the extended window puts the company “at increased risk for piracy.”
The FNCF accuses Disney of using Strange World‘s French theatrical release as a bargaining chip to try and get better conditions when windowing rules come up for re-negotiation on Jan. 23.
But instead of “making spectators and cinemas the collateral victims of these disputes,” the group has called on France’s national film body, the CNC, to organize a mediation between stakeholders, including theaters, studios, streamers and French TV broadcasters.
France’s windowing law isn’t the only regulatory headache for Disney+. Like all streamers operating in Europe, Disney+ has to abide by the continent’s 30 percent quota laws, which require at least one third of all titles on a streaming service to be European.
A recent study by London-based research firm Ampere Analysis found that Netflix was already at or above the 30 percent quota in nearly all of its major European markets, and that HBO Max was close, with upwards of 25 percent European content across its regional footprint, but that Disney+ was far behind, with an average of around 10 percent. Disney, however, is ramping up its European originals to make up the difference.
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