Warners is latest to eye shorter theatrical runs

'Guardians of Ga'hoole' set to follow suit with Disney's 'Alice'

Exhibitors' talks with Disney about tighter theatrical windows have broadened to other studios, with Warner Bros. getting the go-ahead to squeeze the theatrical run of fall tentpole "Guardians of Ga'hoole."

The 3D animated feature is set to hit theaters Sept. 24. To allow the pic's DVD/Blu-ray release in time for holiday gift-buying, Warners has told exhibitors it will tighten its theatrical window to 86 days, about a month shorter than the industry average.

Warners domestic distribution boss Dan Fellman wouldn't discuss particular films but said Thursday, "I've talked to some of the exhibitors about windows; it's a very amicable discussion."

Indeed, some exhibition executives are pleased to secure a related pledge from studios that only two pics a year will fall prey to tighter windows. Remarks by Disney CEO Bob Iger had them fearing that entire slates would be rushed into home video release.

Wall Street doesn't seem to know what to make of the situation.

After Iger told analysts during a Tuesday earnings call that his company will study theatrical windows "case by case," Regal Entertainment shares fell 5% -- only to rebound Thursday, as Disney distribution boss Bob Chapek stressed the studio's commitment to exhibition.

"As we said during our earnings call, we feel that it's important for us to maintain a healthy business on the exhibition side and a healthy business on the home video side," he said. "We think this is in the best interest of theater owners because a healthy movie business is good for them and allows us to invest in high-quality, innovative content. We remain committed to theatrical windows, with the need for exceptions to accommodate a shortened time frame on a case-by-case basis, such as with Disney's 'Alice in Wonderland.' "

THR reported Tuesday that the theatrical run for March 5 opener "Alice" would be tightened to 89 days to get the Tim Burton film into DVD release before summer. Disney's pitch -- and Warners' -- boils down to two points:

-- Only twice a year must DVD releases be accelerated, early fall and late winter.

-- Unless exhibition plays along, studios will be unwilling to slot tentpole titles in September or March.

Exhibitors also are being assured that distributors will make concessions in film-rental negotiations for movies getting tighter windows.

The studio pitches have triggered a spate of exhibitor calls to other distributors, with theater owners wanting to know whether others will follow the lead of Disney and Warners. Some exhibs are reasonably sanguine that the situation can be sorted out, but execs at one large circuit remain unconvinced and are mulling a response to the budding trend.

In a worst-case scenario for the studios, one or more circuits could refuse to book a picture for a theatrical run shorter than four months.