There's another growing trend just now: the widening of the key 'summer' blockbuster season (recognised terminology), with Alice in Wonderland released in March 2011, and Hunger Games in March 2011, a full two months before the traditional May starting point.
Time Warner CEO predicts release date shift to combat piracyJeff Bewkes says making films available on all platforms early in their runs will reduce piracy, despite cinemas' objections
A powerful media mogul who oversees one of the most successful studios in Hollywood, Warner Bros, has predicted the demise of the longstanding "window" between cinema and home video releases in order to combat internet piracy.
Interviewed on the US PBS network's Charlie Rose show, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said the entire film industry, "including theatre owners" had "an interest" in ensuring that new movies were available early in their runs for consumers to view on any platform, whether at the cinema, on DVD or view-on-demand (VOD). His comments will cause consternation among the owners of cinema chains, who have fought a running battle with studios to retain the traditional 17-week window before new films shift from the big screen to home video.
Bewkes accepted that the issue was a "dangerous" one, and said studios would "be as thoughtful as we can to do it in a way that doesn't undermine the theatre experience". But he nevertheless appeared to indicate that the window's demise was a done deal because the alternative was to "create a gap for piracy". He also predicted that the price of DVDs would come down further in future.
Cinema chains in the UK and abroad fear relaxation of the window in case film lovers decide to save their pennies and see new releases at home rather than travelling to their nearest multiplex. At the moment it is impossible to see new films in high quality anywhere else but the cinema, a monopoly which has arguably helped maintain box office yields since the arrival of VHS in the 1980s.
In 2010 Warner's rival studio Disney fought a battle with UK cinemas over the release window for Tim Burton's blockbuster Alice in Wonderland. In the end the film was released in cinemas according to the usual schedule and went on to gross more than $1bn at the global box office. The total worldwide box office stood at $36.6bn last year, up 3% on 2010, but only because markets such as China and Russia are growing rapidly and 3D films continue to yield a higher premium. Given that experts suggest that piracy costs the US economy alone more than $20bn annually, Bewkes's prediction begins to look more than reasonable. Nevertheless, further battles with cinema chains no doubt await if Hollywood decides to move forward with its current plans.