Tighter theatrical windows hot topic at ShowEast

The future of the once-sacrosanct theatrical play period was topic No. 1 at the exhibition confab.

ORLANDO -- There was a lot of window-watching at ShowEast this year.

Will one or more studios soon go to a tighter theatrical window? Will a new window for so-called premium VOD kill the theatrical golden goose? The future of the once-sacrosanct theatrical play period was topic No. 1 at the exhibition confab.

"It's been on the agenda of all the regional conferences, and people are talking about it here," a top industryite noted. "Everybody wants to know if premium VOD is going to happen and when."

At ShowEast, the focus traditionally is on studio screenings of fourth-quarter movie releases, and this year's batch, including Paramount's "The Fighter" and Fox's "Unstoppable," seemed to play well. But whenever there is a big industry development on the horizon -- a few years ago it was digital projection and last year 3D cinema -- exhibitor chatter in the hotel hallways and golf links skews more toward the hot-button topic.

Through media leaks, studios have floated the idea that three studios -- Disney, Warner Bros. or Fox -- early next year may release one or more movies on premium-priced VOD more quickly than on DVD. The whispers suggest that select titles could hit VOD as quickly as just 30 days after a film's theatrical opening, but angry exhibitors claim such talk amounts to marketplace collusion among the major studios.

"They're spreading the idea that it's going to happen in the first quarter and that it's going to be done by more than one studio," an exhibition insider groused. "That makes it more likely that they will and also makes it harder for exhibitors to react to. So it's kind of like back-door collusion."

Industry leaders hope to persuade studios to adopt a collaborative, go-slow approach on the issue.

"Exhibitors still believe than our partners in distribution should discuss with exhibition a model for VOD that works for everyone," National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian said.

In a separate -- but no less challenging -- area of industry policy, Paramount COO Frederick Huntsberry used a ShowEast keynoter on film piracy to suggest a move away from a "graduated response" to the problem. Under that approach, industry enforcers notify consumers caught downloading pirated copies of films and mete out harsher punishment only if the activity persists.

But Huntsberry argues the proliferation of pirate-video websites known as cyberlockers make such an approach futile. Downloading illicit videos from cyberlockers is harder to track than from peer-to-peer sites, and many cyberlockers also allow virtually untraceable video streaming.

"Graduated response is not a useful instrument against cyberlocker downloading and streaming," Huntsberry told The Hollywood Reporter.

Also this week, exhibitors were focused on a groundbreaking laser-3D system that Kodak is testing. Such projection systems would replace the usual xenon lamps with lasers.

The approach is much pricier and technical hurdles remain. But many believe laser lighting could be the future for 3D cinema, which carries more intense illumination needs than 2D projection.

ShowEast 2010, which concluded its four-day run at the Marriott Orlando World Center with a Thursday awards banquets, marked modest upticks in attendance and trade show participation from last year. Organizers said paid attendance reached 800 registrants, while trade-show booths and suite space covered 19,600 square feet.

Next year, ShowEast moves to the Westin Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Fla.

"We're moving to Miami, basically, and the reception we are getting with people is wonderful," ShowEast managing director Robert Sunshine said.

ShowEast is produced by e5 Global Media, parent company of THR.