Movies screened in Australia will increasingly be available for download or on disc up to 30 days sooner.
Blockbuster movies screened in Australian cinemas will increasingly be available for download or for sale on disc up to 30 days sooner than they are now.
The move, part of an effort to combat online privacy, was announced by the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association's chief executive Simon Bush, who represents the $1 billion Australian film and TV home entertainment industry.
Movie studios and distributors have traditionally given cinemas an exclusive 120-day window before making films available for purchase on disc or online.
"They don't like the fact that they are losing out a lot of money to piracy": Simon Bush from the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Though not set in concrete, the window has been an unspoken gentlemen's agreement between the studios and cinemas. But in recent times, movie studios and their representatives have been lobbying to bring the window down.
"This 120 days is not the hard-and-fast rule any more and there will be some studios this year that will be coming in around the 90 days [in Australia]," Mr Bush said.
"... They don't like the fact that they are losing out a lot of money to piracy," Mr Bush added.
"Would they like the 120-day [period shortened] to get it made available on the internet and DVD [sooner]? The short answer is yes. And that's what they're working to do in Australia."
Although earlier disc and download releases won't be "across the board", there will be "increasingly" more, Mr Bush said.
"It continues to ensure that the theatrical window retains its rightful prominence in the market as the premium movie experience, but also allows the consumer to increasingly access the film earlier digitally and on DVD and Blu-ray and thus reduce what some refer to as the 'piracy window'."
When Disney tried to bring Alice in Wonderland out on disc and for download a month earlier than usual in 2010, it resulted in threats of a boycott of Disney films by some of Europe's largest cinemas.
Youry Bredewold, who then represented both cinema chain Pathé and Holland's National Board of Cinema Owners, said the boycott threat was not one that had been taken lightly.
"We decided we need to send a message to the whole industry: If you don't accept our terms, we will never show your movies again," Mr Bredewold said then.
Most cinemas eventually came on board and agreed to the shorter window of release. But it was reported Disney had to negotiate agreements with cinemas that involved it guaranteeing not to break the shorter release period for future films for a period of two years.
Graham Burke, the co-executive chairman of Village Roadshow, said he supported the move to a 90-day window. But he said a simultaneous cinema and DVD/download release would likely never be agreed to.
"With a simultaneous [release], the high probability is that there wouldn't be a viability for theatres because it's the window that provides the opportunity to set up the prestige and the importance of the film for what is then the subsequent ... [home entertainment] releases at a later stage," Mr Burke said.
"[The cinema] business would be in a lot of trouble [if this occurred] and logic would dictate that, if we don't exercise our democratic right to maintain windows, then the [cinema] business is going to struggle."
Greg Hughes, the chief executive officer of Dendy Cinemas, said he had "no comment".
The Australian National Association of Cinema Operators, which represents a number of cinemas and has Mr Hughes, among others, on its board, says on its website that one of the issues it is monitoring on behalf of members includes "the collapsing of windows between theatrical and video release".
The association says the reason it's keeping an eye on this is "to protect the significant investment" made by cinema owners.
Whether it supports 90-day releases remains unclear. Michael Hawkins, its executive director, is overseas and unable to comment. Fairfax was told to contact individual cinemas.
Amalgamated Holdings, which owns Event Cinemas, Greater Union, and Birch, Carroll & Coyle, said the only person who could comment was overseas.
In 2012, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, then a shadow communications spokesman, said to curb online piracy, studios needed to release their movies earlier for download.
"It should be for sale through the iTunes store or various other platforms at the same time," Mr Turnbull said then. "[Because] if they can download, they will. Now we're just kidding ourselves, all they are doing is throwing money away by not making it available instantly."
The earlier disc and download releases comes as the Abbott government considers a number of proposals to crack down on online piracy in Australia. One proposal being looked at involves internet providers being required to block access to websites that host pirated content.
Another proposal under consideration is a "graduated response" scheme. These schemes around the world vary in terms of what action is taken if pirates are found to have repeatedly infringed on the copyright of a rights holder. In some instances, users are fined, internet speeds are throttled, and pirates are cut off from the internet.
The office of Attorney-General George Brandis would not say what type of a graduated response scheme he was looking at for Australia, although representatives for the content industry, such as AHEDA and Music Rights Australia, ruled out disconnection and fines.