James Cameron Siding With Theater Owners Against Studios' Premium VOD Plan (Exclusive)

James Cameron Speaks Cinemacon 2011
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LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 30:  Filmmaker James Cameron attends a digital filmmakers forum at Caesars Palace during CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, March 30, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Cinemark also takes a stand, refusing to carry trailers or put up signage for any movie until it's notified whether the title will be part of the premium VOD offering.

The standoff between Hollywood studios and theater owners over a new premium VOD service intensified Wednesday as prominent filmmakers -- including James Cameron -- prepared to side with exhibitors in a show of support for the theatrical experience.

The country's largest theater circuits also are hitting back hard at Warner Bros., Fox, Universal and Sony, whose VOD deal with DirecTV is reportedly finalized.

On Wednesday, Cinemark Entertainment told the four studios it won't carry trailers, or put up signage, for any movie until the studio notifies it in writing whether the title will be part of the premium VOD offering down the road. Cinemark also could refuse to play a film.

"We are not here to market movies for DirecTV and VOD. We are demanding they tell us upfront what movies those are," Cinemark CEO Alan Stock told The Hollywood Reporter. "Our goal is to promote and advertise movies for their theatrical run."

Cinemark's stern warning came one day after Regal Entertainment told the four studios that it is slashing by half the number of all trailers it plays from them. Nor will it play a spot for any film that's slotted for premium VOD. The policy takes effect April 15.

Representatives from AMC Entertainment met with studios Wednesday to discuss the steps it plans on taking. 

Regal, AMC and Cinemark are the country's three largest theater chains, respectively, representing nearly 16,000 of the 38,605 screens in the U.S.

DirecTV is expected to launch the new service -- dubbed Home Premiere -- this month, followed quickly by a similar service on Comcast and VUDU. Consumers will be able to see a movie 60 days after its theatrical release for $29.99.

Theater owners say the move threatens the theatrical window and sends the message that watching a movie at home is just as good as seeing it in a theater.

Last week, director Todd Phillips spoke out against the premium VOD service when attending CinemaCon, the annual convention of theater owners. He was there as part of the Warner Bros. contingent, promoting his The Hangover Part II.

Phillips told theater owners he makes his films for the big screen, not for the small screen. Otherwise, he would be have been a television director.

Cameron also attended CinemaCon to discuss the future of digital cinema and give a demonstration on frame rates. He repeatedly told exhibitors that the theatrical experience can't be repeated in the home, particularly when it comes to digital 3D and new technologies.

Insiders say Cameron, along with other industry leaders, will go public with his opposition to the premium VOD service in the coming days.

For their part, studios say they have to find a way to make up for collapse of the DVD market, once a major source of revenue. Also, they say movies don't play in theaters beyond four or five weeks anyway.

Now, movies debut on DVD 90 to 120 days after they bow in cinema houses.

In a statement, Regal CEO Amy Miles said a healthy theatrical window is important to the entire movie industry.

"Based on the recent announcement regarding Premium Video on Demand, we are amending our policies for support of films from studios participating in the new VOD model," Miles said. "It is simply not in Regal's best interest to utilize our resources to provide a marketing platform for the release of Premium Video on Demand movies."