UK cinema chain in talks with the studios to relax windows at certain times of the year.

UK cinema chain Vue is in talks with the US studios to relax the theatrical window at certain times of the year.

“We are having discussions right now,” said Vue CEO Tim Richards in a recent interview with Screen. “That is why I am optimistic about the future in Europe. When we had a problem with Disney, we sat down and worked it out. We are having discussions with other studios today on that same model, where there is a relaxation of the window at certain parts of the year.”

Early last year Vue was one of the UK cinema operators to reach an early agreement with Disney over its relaxed release of Alice In Wonderland, a move opposed by European chain Odeon.

“The obvious one for us, which is a win win for the whole industry, is for a relaxation in September, the slowest month in the UK and most markets internationally,” continued Richards.

With a four-month window, studios cannot get their September theatrical product released on DVD in the lead up to Christmas, one of the best times for DVD sales.

“By us being more commercial and taking a broader view on the business if we are to relax a little bit the studios will in turn release more films in September and we get a greater breadth of product over 12 months. Everyone wins by being flexible.”

Richards cautioned that any relaxation would only come about through collaboration, and expressed opinion on why the windows debate in the US had become so heated: “The part I stress is that that it is done in co-operation. The frustration I’m hearing from the US is that no one likes unilateral action. That’s where the frustration comes from. That doesn’t happen internationally.”  

The progressive chain is one of a number of major European exhibitors planning a move into VOD. Other exhibitors said to be eyeing their own platforms include CineYelmo in Spain and Gaumont in France.

“We are looking at VOD. But we would only do it day and date with DVD, respecting the windows. Or we would have discussions with our studio partners and if it made sense we’d look at doing what has been done in the US where there has been an extension in the time between DVD and VOD or vice versa. There has already been a positive response from the studios to such an idea.”

“We have a huge inbuilt audience so it makes sense. We will have over 40m people coming to Vue this year. We’ve just relaunched a fantastic new website so it’s a natural evolution for us to move into VOD,” added Richards.

Richards said it was too early to tell how many titles a Vue VOD platform would include but it would “only go in in a big way, comprehensively, with libraries, too” and would have to be multi-platform, catering for iPods, connected TVs and other devices in order to be competitive.

“I think the shift to VOD from DVD is a net positive for distributors because you get a greater alignment between studio and exhibition. Multi-platform basis gives us greater alignment on when things are done.”

The Vue CEO denied that a move into VOD was in any way a sign that theatrical windows faced further erosion or that it was a response to the controversial PVOD offerings in the US:

“It’s not in any way a reaction to the Premium VOD debate in the US. There has been too much reliance on DVD for too long even though the writing has been on the wall for some time.

“The window will always generate additional revenue for all parties. We mustn’t erode that. The pie will be bigger with the window, anything else is knee-jerk and misguided.”

Richards described a VOD platform as a short to medium term project, which would not be ready this year, and confirmed the offering would not include a physical element, which he described as “shortlived.”

The move would bring Vue, the UK’s third largest exhibitor, closer to major chains such as Gaumont in France and AMC/Regal in the US which already operate distribution services.

Vue operates 69 cinemas, with 654 screens, totaling 140,500 seats, including the rebranded flagship Warner Village cinema in Leicester Square.

Odeon, the UK’s largest cinema chain, were unavailable for comment on the issue of exhibitor VOD platforms and negotiation on windows.