Hong Kong's exhibition body, the Hong Kong Theatres Association, has reached an agreement with local distributors to extend the territory's theatrical window to at least one month.

Currently, VCDs and DVDs of local titles are often released at the same time as, or only weeks after, their theatrical release. However the association, which represents all of Hong Kong's 62 theatres, has issued guidelines to distributors which prohibit the video format release of a title for at least 30 days. The move is aimed at protecting the revenue of local cinemas, which face stiff competition from VCDs and DVDs.

The guidelines encompass both local and foreign product, although US and other foreign films are normally subject to stricter booking terms between distributors and exhibitors, and enjoy a theatrical window of at least three months.

According to Media Asia head of distribution, Ricky Tse, distributors had begun to shorten the theatrical window because of poor box office returns. "Box office for local films has been weak in recent years, so distributors can usually earn more if they bring forward the VCD release," Tse said. "But this has made the cinema business unstable - it's in all our best interests if box office is steady."

Distributors also cite rampant piracy in the region as a reason for releasing VCDs and DVDs early. Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department reported a decline in the number of pirated VCDs seized last year, but DVD piracy is increasing. From January to October last year, customs seized 300,000 pirated DVDs, compared to 130,000 for the whole of 2000.