In the middle of a debate on the impact of new technologies on cinema in Rotterdam recently, there was a beautiful intervention from the floor.

Lia van Leer, founder of the Jerusalem Film Festival, recalled how in the 1950s she had driven a mobile cinema to kibbutzim in the young Israel with a missionary passion for film. It was meant to be a contrast with the new generation of multimedia-savvy film folk who were getting excited about how new media was opening up new ways to reach customers.

Real cinema was not something that could be recreated on a mobile phone, she suggested. It never hurts to be reminded that the big screen has an emotional resonance that no other media has yet managed to replicate. The rather clinical word that is often used today to describe the theatrical experience is "immersive". But that does not touch it.

The emotional response to cinema is unique - we might like a game or enjoy a television programme but most people use their strongest words to describe their reaction to movies - love or hate.

But it is wrong to divorce that power from the realities of the market. There is too much talk at present that gives the impression that cinema is a piece of heritage in need of protection.

What almost all of the enthusiastic film-makers excited by the democratising power that the internet is bringing to film believe is that theatre is a powerful living part of the multimedia scene. Far from heading the way of jazz into slow decline, it is strong and can be revitalised, not overthrown by new media forms.

These thoughts come to mind when considering the current dispute about release windows between theatrical and DVD (see page 6 for more).

The drastic action in withdrawing films in Italy, Germany and now the UK may give the impression that it is about protecting cinema. But what is really happening is that new media formats are badly stretching the current business model. Exhibitors quite reasonably see the security that came with the assured release window as a vital prop to their model. But it is not a tenable position to hold for long and not because of distributors, or even because piracy is happily filling the gaps. It is consumers, not exhibitors, who hold the real whip hand here.

Consumers are increasingly demanding when and where they see a film. They will choose the theatre because the theatre is a great thing. Windows are a tool to draw them in.

The release window debate must not be allowed to escalate based on the dogmatic insistence on an arbitrary time frame of four months. The current stand turns the discussion away from the customer and towards a damaging internal feud. The truth is that only partnership between cinema owner and distributor can take cinema forward and the clear common ground is a general support for windows, not to protect film, but because they work in business terms.

The conflict, though, has taken on an ideological edge as if there were no other action possible. Exhibitors have thrown down a challenge that almost demands a tough response. Distributors feel they are being held to ransom.

One distributor likened the current dispute to the Cuban Missile Crisis - with both sides waiting to see who will blink first.

The nightmare scenario is that we end in an out-and-out battle and if you want to know what happens, just take a stroll into virtually any high street in developed countries across the world.

There will be an often incongruous art deco facade between shops that was once the local cinema but now houses a wine bar or new supermarket. Those cinemas died - often in the 1970s and 1980s - not because people stopped loving film, but because it stopped keeping up with their needs.