* Disney continues negotiations with European exhibitors
* Theaters upset over short theatrical release for "Alice"
* Disney looks to spark sales by moving up DVD release
By Alex Dobuzinskis and Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES, Feb 18 UK theater chain Cineworld
on Thursday said it will play Walt Disney Co's (DIS.N) "Alice
in Wonderland," signaling an apparent truce in a dispute over
Disney's plans to speed up the release of the film to DVD.
"After much speculation around whether or not major cinema
exhibitors in the UK would play the film, Cineworld has reached
an agreement with the Walt Disney Company UK," Cineworld
(CINE.L) said in a statement. The chain said it will play the
film in 150 theaters, including many screenings in 3-D.
Last week, Disney said it asked U.S. and international
theater operators to agree to a shorter gap between the debut
of its "Alice in Wonderland" theatrical release and the DVD
launch, to help spark DVD sales.
Disney continues negotiations with European theater owners
who have threatened to boycott "Alice" over concerns a shorter
theatrical release will encourage audiences to wait for the DVD
release, instead of seeing "Alice" in theaters.
Theater chains have been spending millions of dollars to
upgrade facilities to show 3-D films.
"We are extremely pleased to have reached a satisfactory
compromise on this matter," Cineworld Chief Executive Steve
Wiener said in a statement. Disney declined comment.
Disney is looking to push forward by about a month the DVD
release for "Alice," which comes out in theaters on March 5.
DVDs are traditionally released 17 weeks after debuting in
U.S. theater owners have grumbled over the plans, but so
far they appear ready to run "Alice".
"Alice" is the most highly anticipated 3-D film release
since December's "Avatar" from News Corp-owned (NWSA.O)
Twentieth Century Fox. "Avatar" has become the top grossing
film of all time with $2.4 billion at worldwide box offices.
"As leaders in 3-D we did not want the public to miss out
on such a visual spectacle," Wiener said.
Disney CEO Bob Iger also set off a furor among theater
owners in 2005 after saying the time between movie and DVD
releases should be shortened to save on marketing dollars and
sustain consumer excitement for titles.
The "window" was shortened from about six months to around
four months in recent years.
Now other studios are expected to experiment with the
release schedule. Industry insiders also expect Comcast Corp's
(CMCSA.O) proposed $30 billion joint venture with NBC Universal
will pave the way for further innovations such as potentially
offering blockbuster films on movie-on-demand channels ahead of
their DVD release.
General Electric Co (GE.N) owns 80 percent of NBC
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Sue Zeidler in Los
Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio)