'Alice' might get shorter U.S. theatrical run

Disney has asked theater owners about smaller window

Bob Iger wasn't bluffing.

The Disney CEO has been telling Wall Street for months that he's going to have studio executives begin fiddling with traditional movie release windows, and it appears the time has arrived for the first grand experiment.

A day after the revelation that U.K. exhibitors are being asked to accept a tightened theatrical window on Disney's spring tentpole "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 on "Alice," a 3D motion-capture/live-action fantasy helmed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.

The studio would benefit by truncating the film's theatrical run as the title is a near sure shot for big success in home entertainment with its family-friendly subject matter and well-known cast. So the quicker Disney can get it into DVD and Blu-ray Disc release the better.

It's likely that Disney also will accelerate the availability of "Alice" on VOD, which home-entertainment execs 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 Burbank 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 boxoffice by a set percentage of a film's entire run, with up to 55% going into studio coffers on pricey tentpole releases.

But on some pics, studios still pencil in a growing split for exhibs during the course of a run. So it's possible that Disney will use such an approach to offer a sweeter-than-usual early taste of the receipts for exhibs agreeing to book the film for a truncated theatrical run.

In any event, exhibs 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 up to 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 big extra-dimensional releases including Warner Bros.' April 2 opener "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.