Sony Pictures desperately wanted to release the DVD of the Michael Jackson concert movie "This Is It" for the holiday shopping season but backed down after movie theater owners complained that it would be too soon after the film's theatrical premiere.
That thwarted the latest attempt by a Hollywood studio to shorten the "window" between when movies appear in theaters and when they come out on DVD as the industry grapples with a downturn in DVD sales, which have traditionally propped up the movie business.
The push-back Sony received from theater owners over the DVD plans for "This Is It" shows the difficulty Hollywood faces in trying to redefine long-standing practices that are coming under scrutiny because of shifts in how audiences watch movies at home. Studios see the fast rise of low-cost purveyors of DVDs, such as rent-by-mail outfit Netflix Inc. and rental kiosk operator Redbox, as undercutting valuable video sales that have long been an important source of profit.
For Sony, DVD sales of "This Is It" could become more crucial because the movie's box-office performance, despite the hype surrounding it and the studio's $60-million investment, has been decidedly mixed. Through Wednesday, the film generated $20.1 million in worldwide ticket sales, including $7.4 million in the U.S. and Canada, lower than many projected.
Industry executives say it's on track to collect less than $50 million domestically and about twice that amount overseas by the end of its planned two-week run.
Sony's attempt to push for an earlier DVD release of "This Is It" came after a similar move by Paramount Pictures, which announced this month that the DVD of its summer event film "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" would come out Nov. 3, 88 days after it first hit theaters, raising the ire of many exhibitors. The advancing of DVD release dates was also raised this month at an industry conference by Bob Iger, chief of Walt Disney Co., which had previously broached the idea.
"There's a lot of nervousness about the DVD market in general and a lot of experimentation going on with collapsing windows," said Derek Baine, an analyst at SNL Kagan.
Releasing the "This Is It" DVD next month would have enabled Sony to capitalize on heightened interest in what turned out to be Jackson's final performance, and to benefit from holiday gift giving. The disc is now expected to come out early next year.
Although an early release made sense for Sony, theater owners were none too happy at the prospect. For years, studios have honored the DVD window, in part out of concern that theaters would retaliate by not booking some of their movies.
Sony executives tried to persuade exhibitors to make an exception for "This Is It," given its short run on the big screen and the uniqueness of the picture.
"We felt we made a pretty good case as to why this movie was different," said Jeff Blake, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, who oversees worldwide marketing and distribution.
However, the movie theater owners refused to budge.
"We had several conversations with Sony and so did our members," said John Fithian, president of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners. "Any time we see the window go under three months, we alert our members and raise concerns with the studios."
Sony, whose DVD releases on average come out about four months after a movie's theatrical run, reluctantly decided to back off from its request after discussions with theater owners to preserve good relations with them.
"We didn't want it to be an issue," Blake said. "At the end of the day, we wanted a big theatrical run and they certainly stepped up and supported that."