Disney says movie theaters to survive tech attack

Theatrical releases of movies will withstand the onslaught of new formats for watching film, from computer downloads to high-definition discs, Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook said on Thursday.

Cook expected to see studios experiment with making hit movies available for Web download earlier, but he believed the "window" between theatrical and DVD releases would not change much anytime soon.

"The theatrical experience is still the most important experience in the pipeline," Cook told the Reuters Media Summit in New York. "I don't see much shrinking (of windows) in the foreseeable future. We are comfortable where it is now."

Walt Disney Co. (DIS.N: Quote, Profile, Research) Chief Executive Bob Iger set off a storm of protests from movie theater owners last year when he suggested that the window could one day collapse, making movies available simultaneously in theaters and on DVD.

Cook's comments that he saw no significant change to the window — already down to about 4-1/2 months from 6 months — echoed other speakers at the summit, including Blockbuster Inc. (BBI.N: Quote, Profile, Research) CEO John Antioco, Netflix Inc. (NFLX.O: Quote, Profile, Research) CEO Neil Hunt and Regal Entertainment Group (RGC.N: Quote, Profile, Research) CEO Michael Campbell.

A host of technologies are expected to improve movie watching outside theaters, but one of the most anticipated, high-definition DVDs, is having trouble as all the competing technologies tend to confuse consumers, Cook said.

"It seems like so much of this is going to be happening at the same time," Cook said. "The confusion factor is, I think, something that we are going to be living with for a long time. The marketplace will decide, but you hope it's sooner rather than later."

Earlier this year, Disney laid off about 20 percent of its studio workforce and said it would make fewer movies but more Disney-branded films in an effort to turn the division around. Before that, it had not marked a profit rise in four quarters.

Cook said the studio was still considering to what extent to use private equity investment as a hedge against the risks the studio is taking in making more big-budget films.

Disney also hopes 3D films will help invigorate the theater experience, and aims to announce its first release of a live-action 3D film next year, Cook said.

Cook said Disney had slipped from being the leader in the animation market before it bought Pixar because of the technologies it used and the movie subjects it choose.

"We got away from musicals, we got away from fairytales, we got away from all-audience kinds of movies," he said. "I think it showed in audiences. You know they're never wrong."

These shortfalls were exacerbated by the fact it takes three to four years to make an animated movie.

"So you can lose a decade in a blink of an eye," he added.


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