Paramount DVD release dates angers exhibs

'G.I. Joe,' 'The Goods' debuting 88 days after theatrical bow

The Windows War is on again.

Paramount's recent move to schedule two DVDs for release less than three months after their theatrical openings has renewed hostilities between Hollywood studios and movie theater operators.

Last week, Par scheduled its summer action hit "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" for a Nov. 3 debut on shiny disc, or 88 days after its release in theaters. It also set the Jeremy Piven comedy "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" for DVD-rental release Nov. 10, also 88 days from its theatrical bow.

The reaction from exhibitors has been dramatic.

"Our members are ballistic," National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian said.

On average, Fox maintains the tightest theatrical window among major studios. Fox Home Entertainment tags its DVD releases at 122 days -- about four months -- after they open in theaters.

NATO stats show Par with the second-tightest window, at an average 123 days. And its unprecedented scheduling of quick "street dates" for two titles at once has exhibitors worried that a new wave of accelerated DVD releasing will sweep through Hollywood.

NATO posts window averages on its Web site and issues "early warnings" when studios schedule unusually early DVD releases. The trade association leaves it to individual exhibs to decide on an appropriate response.

If the film in question is still in theaters, exhibs might pull it from their circuits. Alternately, theater owners might put the squeeze on any future negotiations on film rentals with the offending studio.

"We don't know what Paramount is up to, but it's highly objectionable," Fithian said.

Ideally for exhibs, the studio's rapid-fire approach to its holiday disc releases will prove an exception, and Par will revert to its previous policy of four-months-plus theatrical windows. Certainly, there is an ebb and flow to the pattern of DVD releasing at individual studios.

Fox had been maintaining an average theatrical window of less than four months until it recently scheduled its romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer" for Dec. 22, or a leisurely 158 days after its theatrical bow.

A couple years ago, Universal slotted a series of accelerated disc releases only to retrench to a more conventional posture after exhibs cried foul. In its latest windows report, NATO shows Uni maintaining the widest theatrical window among major studios at an average of 141 days.

The industry average is now 129 days, based on NATO's tracking of DVD release dates announced through Monday for studios' 2009 theatrical releases. The most recent Par moves -- which jump that industry average by 41 days -- might prove to be an anomaly, but at least for now, exhibitor anxieties are running high.

"I view the studios as our partners, but it seems like the rules of the game are changing," Cineplex chief Ellis Jacob said. "That's a concern. We at Cineplex have invested a lot of money in our theaters and in new technology such as 3D. So when something like this happens, it creates an issue with people from the standpoint of entertainment choices. If a guest of ours knows a movie is going to be on DVD in less than 90 days, then they know that if they miss it they can catch it on DVD not too much later."

Regal Entertainment president Greg Dunn also expressed disappointment with exhibition's "partners" at the studios.

"Maintaining the appropriate timeline or windows between the theatrical release and ancillary markets is critical and essential for the overall good of the film industry," Dunn said. "If the existing windows policies were significantly adjusted, we would aggressively respond -- as we would toward any policy that would negatively impact the industry."

Par and Fox declined comment.