With last year's Alice in Wonderland, Disney decided to try something new: release the DVD weeks earlier in an attempt to reverse flatlining home video sales. Unsurprisingly, theater chains--who typically reap a larger percentage of box office revenues in the later weeks of a film's release--hated the idea, because it signaled the studios' desire to eventually cut them out of the game and engage with moviegoers directly.
The 3D Alice's substantial theatrical returns calmed both parties. Now, though, it looks like the two largest theater chains, AMC and Regal entertainment, have decided to go on offense.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, AMC and Regal will form a venture to distribute independent films, potentially disrupting the partnership they now have with the studios and "encroaching" on studio turf. The chains will focus on acquiring films that typically do not get a traditional wide-release in theaters, "such as low-budget dramas, comedies and horror pictures." The point is to increase the sheer amount of product in theaters at the same time that major studios are slashing their own movie rosters to focus on tentpole releases (like Transformers, Iron Man) that generate higher ancillary revenue streams.
Interestingly, the move by AMC and Regal arrives on heels of Time Warner's (the parent company of Warner Bros. studios) decision to "launch a premium video-on-demand service" that will again shorten the DVD release window and possibly eat into theater chains revenues.
As for moviegoers? The wrangling between studios and theater chains may create an even-more fractured cinematic landscape. It's not a stretch to imagine a scenario in the near future where studios beam their latest tentpole release straight to household 3D TVs, while struggling theater chains try to lure moviegoers with exclusive, independent films--and try to peddle $10 popcorn.