U.K. exhibs want 17-week window


LONDON -- Delegates at the third RAAM cinema conference here heard Wednesday that when it comes to shrinking theatrical-to-DVD release windows, enough is enough.

Tim Richards, CEO of the U.K.'s third-largest exhibitor, Vue Entertainment, said: "Based on what's happened in the past few weeks, we have, regretfully, had to draw a line in the sand at a calendar four months, or 17 weeks."

His comments come on the back of controversy sparked here by 20th Century Fox's decision to shorten the release window for "Night at the Museum" to just 13 weeks.

While there are no window agreements in the U.K. between content providers and exhibitors, this is the first clear public statement by a major theater chain that it will not tolerate further shrinking of release windows. Last week, Vue and Odeon pulled "Museum" from their circuits after hearing of the proposed DVD release date (HR 2/1).

But, having identified collapsing release windows and piracy as the two major threats to their business, a panel of speakers at the conference's opening session remained optimistic about the future of the film industry and the exhibition sector in particular. Paramount Pictures International president Andrew Cripps said that, with the forthcoming product lineup for this year, "2007 is a record year in the making."

The accelerating rollout of digital technology was also identified as a positive indicator for continuing growth in the U.K. market, though there were continuing concerns about the cost -- and who should foot the bill.

In an opening address to the confab, put on by RAAM Management Ltd., Warner Bros. International Cinemas president Millard Ochs cautioned against complacency: "We cannot wait for distribution to drive (digital). We need to invest -- but at the right price. Let's meet with (original equipment manufacturers) ... and make sure we drive the prices down."

RAAM is a specialist management consultancy serving the cinema exhibition sector in the U.K. and international markets.

The opening seminar was chaired by The Hollywood Reporter's U.K. bureau chief, Stuart Kemp.