ShoWest opens with talk of theatrical windows

SPE's Lynton urges theater operators to have patience

LAS VEGAS -- It didn't take long for someone to use the W-word at ShoWest.

A first-day keynoter, Sony Pictures Entertainment chief Michael Lynton on Monday urged the gathered movie theater operators to show patience with studio distributors and their experiments with film-release windows.

"It is clear from the changing economic model of our industry that we're going to have to re-evaluate the way in which the current window structure operates," Lynton said. "And we need to do so -- as in the case with digital cinema -- by being candid and cooperative with each other so that we can find a solution that works for everyone."

The plea follows the recent move by Disney to squeeze the theatrical run of "Alice in Wonderland" to hasten the title's DVD release, and other studios are mulling similar moves. But though some exhibitors squawked loudly at first, behind-the-scenes negotiating seems to have convinced theater operators such moves will be few and far between.

That's gone far to soothe exhibitor anxieties. But theater owners are on watch for any sign that a trend toward tighter theatrical windows might broaden.

"The most important window to me is the theatrical window," Lynton said to applause from the ballroom full of theater operators. "Always has been. Always will be. We don't make movies for television, for iPods, for cell phones or computers. We make movies for big screens in your theaters."

Lynton said windows experiments are necessary because of the drop in DVD sales. A related problem has seen home entertainment shift from sell-through to rentals.

"That's a huge change, because the studios make roughly $14-$18 on every DVD we sell," the Sony chief said. "But on rentals, we only make between $1 and $4."

Lynton asked exhibs to work collaboratively as studio "partners" in addressing such issues.

"To meet audience demand for entertainment when and where they want it -- and to keep ahead of the pirates who will fill any void we leave -- we've all got to be open to experimenting with new and different windows, taking advantage of new and different technologies."

The comment appeared a pointed reminder that even home entertainment windows will be shifting as studios experiment with accelerated digital distribution and the like.