Not surprisingly, the MPAA's effort incensed exhibitors who complained that the proposal failed to specify how the windows would be affected.
Tensions over the issue have been mounting for months, showing that even seemingly minor changes in release dates can cause an uproar.
Before the "Cloudy" flap, theater owners balked when Sony tried to release its Michael Jackson concert film "This Is It" early on DVD in time for holiday shoppers. When exhibitors complained it was too soon after the film's theatrical premiere, Sony relented. In October, Paramount Pictures angered exhibitors when it announced it would release its summer blockbuster "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" on DVD slightly less than three months after its debut in cinemas.
Then in October, Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger revisited a notion he first broached in 2005, suggesting that studios may need to make DVDs available sooner to conform to changing consumer needs.
Shortly afterward Iger made a fundamental change in the company's organization by placing Bob Chapek, who had headed the DVD operation, in charge of all distribution for Disney movies.
"We're looking across all the revenue streams to find ways to optimize the total size of the pie," said Chapek, suggesting that the current average four-month wait for DVDs is outdated.
"The economics just don't make sense," he said, noting that most movies earn 80% of their box-office revenue in the first three weeks of release in theaters. "Studios are sitting on their hands . . . while the only ones who can exploit the product are pirates."
The typical period between a film's theatrical and DVD releases has narrowed by a month over the last decade, reflecting the much shorter box-office run of movies.
Studios and theater executives admit they have no idea where the future lies. But they say they want to try to figure it out together.
"I really believe the major studios and major exhibitors are going to sit down and work something out that we can both live with," said David Passman, chief executive of Carmike Cinemas Inc., another top national theater chain.