'Avatar' blogging blues

My post the other day on the Blu-ray Disc release of Avatar in France generated quite a bit of traffic and commentary on other web sites (thank you Engadget HD), as well as attracting a few comments here. Alas, most of it has been critical.

While it’s always tempting to blame the critics for missing your point, as a general rule if a large number of people appear to have missed your point you probably didn’t do a very good job making it in the first place. So: mea culpa.

Let my try to clarify some issues:

Notwithstanding Ben from Engadget’s diligent research in IMDB, there really aren’t other movies comparable to Avatar. True, there have been other blockbusters in the past five years, most or all of which may have been released on DVD/Blu-ray within six months. But there haven’t been others with a $450 million negative cost and an inherently longer theatrical cume period due to the still-limited number of 3D screens.

Absent some other compelling reason, it’s very unlikely that Fox’s first choice for releasing Avatar on Blu-ray would be in the middle of the second quarter, historically the slowest sales quarter of the year, even given the threat of piracy (which is complicated in this case anyway due to the pirates’ inability to deliver 3D). I think that judgment is supported by the fact that the studio has not announced a street date outside of Europe. Moreover, even if  it meant to bring it out so soon the studio wouldn’t announce the date while the movie was still in theaters, as it still is in Europe, unless that date were obvious for some other reason.

As to the precise requirements of the French law, in the interests of thoroughness, here is the text of the relevant section in French, and in an English translation provided by La Quadrature du Net, a French advocacy group:

CHAPTER IV

« Délais d’exploitation des œuvres cinématographiques

Delays in the exploitation of cinematographic works

« Art. 30-4. – Une œuvre cinématographique peut faire l’objet d’une exploitation sous forme de vidéogrammes destinés à la vente ou à la location pour l’usage privé du public à l’expiration d’un délai de quatre mois à compter de la date de sa sortie en salles de spectacles cinématographiques. Les stipulations du contrat d’acquisition des droits pour cette exploitation peuvent déroger à ce délai dans les conditions prévues au deuxième alinéa. Les stipulations du contrat d’acquisition des droits pour cette exploitation prévoient les conditions dans lesquelles peut être appliqué un délai supérieur conformément aux modalités prévues au troisième alinéa.

Art. 30-4 – A cinematographic work may [actually must] be exploited in the form of video recordings intended for sale or rental for private use by the public at large at the expiration of a delay of four months counting from the date of its first showing in cinema theaters. The stipulations of the contract for acquiring rights for this exploitation may derogate this delay under the conditions set forth in the second paragraph. The stipulations of the contract for acquiring right for this exploitation predict the conditions under which may be applied a longer delay in conformance with the modalities set forth in the third paragraph.

« La fixation d’un délai inférieur est subordonnée à la délivrance par le Centre national de la cinématographie, au vu notamment des résultats d’exploitation de l’œuvre cinématographique en salles de spectacles cinématographiques, d’une dérogation accordée dans des conditions fixées par décret en Conseil d’État. Cette dérogation ne peut avoir pour effet de réduire le délai de plus de quatre semaines.

Establishing a shorter delay is depends on a showing by the national Center for cinematography, particularly in light of the results of displaying the cinematographic work in cinema theaters, of a derogation giving under the conditions fixed by decree of the Council of State. This derogation may not effectually reduce the delay by more than four weeks.

« Les contestations relatives à la fixation d’un délai supérieur peuvent faire l’objet d’une conciliation menée par le médiateur du cinéma, dans le cadre des missions qui lui sont confiées par l’article 92 de la loi n° 82-652 du 29 juillet 1982 sur la communication audiovisuelle.

Complaints related to setting a longer delay may be subject to mediation by the cinema mediator in the framework of the aims confided in him by article 92 of law 82-652 of 29 July 1982 on audiovisual communication.

Alas, I am dependent on the translation, as I suspect Guillaume in the comments section of my previous post is not. So I’ll concede his interpretive advantage.

The point I was seeking to emphasize in any case, is that, while most of the controversy surrounding the Creation and Internet (a.k.a. Hadopi) Law enacted by the French government focused on its “three-strikes” provision dealing with copyright infringement on the Internet, the law is quite sweeping in its scope, touching many other areas of media distribution in France, particularly those related to digital distribution.

One of those other things it does is generally to regulate the sequence and length of movie release windows. The degree to which that is influencing Fox’s release plans for Avataris, perhaps, debatable (although I still suspect it’s quite a bit). What’s not debatable is that movie distribution is now a highly regulated business in France. And, given how the French market intersects with others, through EU rules, through Blu-ray and DVD region codes, through language, etc., what happens in France does not stay in France.

At a time when the long-established sequence of release windows is being challenged by changes in technology and consumer behavior, movie distributors need maximux flexibility in setting those windows to manage their way effectively through the current transition. The last thing they need is for governments to start stepping in and setting the rules for them.

That, however, is the situation that prevails in France, right smack in the middle of the EU. It came about because the political process that led to the birth of Hadopi, dating back to the original Mission Olivennes, involved a classic political bargain: strong government measures to crack down on Internet piracy in exchange for strong government measures controlling the way digital businesses can operate.

Content owners broadly cheered the first part that bargain, but they also have to live with the second. At this point, frankly, it’s hard to tell which will have a more lasting impact.

2 Comments

  1. In response to your comment on the previous post. Just because it is going to come out on Disc within 6 months, doesn’t mean they’d announce that fact within the first month of theatrical release. For example, The Dark Knight was released in the Theater on July 18th and released on December 9th, but wasn’t announced until September 29th. So in other words, I’d expect an announcement of Avatar’s Blu-ray release sometime in February or March.

    Now if you don’t believe it’ll be out in 6 months, maybe James Cameron’s own words might convince you. “So we will probably put out a disk, you know, in six or eight months, let’s call it six months, and then after that we will have a 3-D disc when there are enough sets available.”
    http://bluraydaily.com/news/200912/cameron-confirms-blu-ray-3d-plans-for-avatar/

  2. This nice piece of news was quoted by Boycott Novell yesterday.

    Thank you for reporting the early release of this movie thanks for French law but please don’t compare sharing with murder on the high seas. Sharing is good and if we were all allowed to share, we would soon create the greatest library every known. While sharing is forbidden, all sorts of 20th century culture is vanishing along with it’s physical media. A terrific example of this loss was the looting and ultimate destruction of the former BBC studios in Jamaica where many one of a kind recordings were housed. The works we have today, we have because people have reproduced and shared them. If you would like to use colorful language, try comparing copyright maximalists with Caliph Umar or other famous book burners, theives and vandals.

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