Country Focus: Belgium
Benelux takes on Disney giant
by Aurore Engelen
26/02/2010 - It’s the story of the week: an army of European exhibitors have threatened to rebel against Uncle Sam, by deciding to boycott Disney's new work, the much-awaited Alice in Wonderland, which marks the return to the fold of Tim Burton, who left the company in 1984.
Exhibitors’ bold and somewhat suicidal decision comes from what some have feared for months, namely the shake-up of distribution windows, without consultation or prior agreement.
Backed by vague or even non-existent legislation in many countries, Disney decided to bring forward the DVD release date. Unlike France, where the window between a film’s theatrical and DVD release (as well as the first TV broadcasting) is fixed by law, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK, among others, are not protected by legislation.
Citing as reasons the fight against piracy, and the trend towards shorter theatrical runs for films, Disney wanted to push ahead by planning an almost worldwide DVD release just 12 weeks after the theatrical launch of Alice in Wonderland, instead of the standard 17 weeks.
This announcement was followed by an immediate backlash. In mid-February, the Odeon group (40% of UK theatres) announced its intention to boycott the film. This week, Belgian and Dutch exhibitors’ federations sided with this decision.
Faced with this combined attack, the Disney group launched negotiations, reaching an agreement (putting the DVD release back to 17 weeks) with Odeon just hours before the film’s world premiere yesterday evening in the UK.
While the situation thus appears to be resolved in the UK, the boycott threat still holds in the Netherlands, where four of the largest exhibitors (representing over 80% of theatres) are sticking firmly to their position, as well as in Belgium, where the Belgian Cinema Federation is also standing its ground.