Europe's online source of news, data & analysis for professionals involved in packaged media and new delivery technologies

ANALYSIS The staggering of international releases

Screen Digest has examined the changing pattern of DVD release strategies in Europe between 2002 and the first half of 2005. In the course of undertaking the analysis of the theatrical-to-retail DVD release window, the researchers used the available data to measure the gap between the release of key titles theatrically in the US and their cinematic debuts in each of the three European markets examined – Germany, Spain and the UK. The time elapsing between a title’s US DVD release date and its launch on the format in Europe is also compared.

The aim of this analysis was to determine to what extent studios are moving towards simultaneous releases for key titles and what impact this trend is having on the staggering of international theatrical and DVD release dates.

To avoid confusion with the normal concept of release windows, the gap between US and UK/German/Spanish release (whether theatrical or on DVD) is referred as the 'stagger'.

In order to make a full comparison, the data sample was made up only of those titles that had reached the top 50s by box office and for which DVD release dates were available in all of the four territories during the period under analysis.

Theatrical 'stagger'

Screen Digest’s analysis of the resulting 90 titles indicates that there has been a limited, but measurable shift towards closer release dates in the US and Europe.

The average stagger between theatrical release in the US and in UK cinemas was 6.8 weeks at the beginning of the analysis period, November 2002. By the middle of 2005, however, this figure had been reduced by one third, to 4.4 weeks. Declines of a similar magnitude were seen in Spain (8.3 weeks to 5.2 weeks) and Germany (7.7 weeks to 5.9 weeks) over the same period.

One aspect of the data that is worth noting is the appearance of the same peaks and troughs in the different European averages. Since each of the national averages was derived from the same titles, in the same order, this highlights the fact that very similar release strategies were employed for each of these titles across the three European territories. Two key issues underlying this trend:

Maximising marketing budgets

Studios invest vast sums of money in the marketing of key film properties, with the aim of creating a ‘buzz’ that will promote the film through the all-important word-of-mouth. Historically the impact of each campaign tended to be limited to the local market, but in recent years the US release of a major event title has often garnered almost as much publicity in Europe as it does domestically.

The ubiquity of internet reviews and advertising means that a simultaneous release may allow a distributor to capitalise on the buzz created by a US premiere whilst film marketing campaigns can be run more easily on a global level than used to be the case.

Combating piracy

TThe logic behind simultaneous release strategies is that many consumers are willing to pay to see a legitimate version of the film, provided they are not asked to wait several months longer than their American counterparts. Furthermore, a simultaneous theatrical release is more likely to result in a simultaneous DVD release, which in turn brings forward the availability of a legitimate, and probably extras-laden, copy of the film for home viewing.

Offset against these factors, however, is the original reason for staggering theatrical release dates: the high cost of manufacturing prints of the film, and hence the potential savings if these can be re-used in different territories.

However, the trend toward a less staggered international release schedule over 2002 to 2004 does not actually reflect a dramatic increase in simul-taneous release dates. Screen Digest has defined a ‘simultaneous’ release as being one within seven days either way (before or after) the US release, in order to allow for local theatrical conventions, such as opening titles on a specific day of the week.

In fact, in the UK, the proportion of titles opening in cinemas within a week of their US release actually declined noticeably between 2002 and 2004, from one third of the research sample in 2002 to less than 20 per cent in 2004. In Germany and Spain, the proportion remained relatively constant from 2002 to 2004. Indeed, there is little evidence of a strong trend toward simultaneous releasing in any of the three European territories up to 2004. The length of the stagger was determined on a case by case basis, rather than as part of a deliberate, overaching policy on the part of distributors.

DVD 'stagger'

Screen Digest’s analysis of DVD release dates shows that, compared with the theatrical situation, the reduction in the stagger between US and European DVD release is considerably greater. The average gap between the US and UK DVD debuts fell from less than two months (7.5 weeks) at the beginning of the analysis period to 3.7 weeks by its close. In Spain, the same films began with an average delay of almost three months (12.1 weeks), which had more than halved to 5.1 weeks over the period.

The data for Germany is somewhat distorted by the presence of one film, Buena Vista’s Lilo and Stitch, which was released on DVD in Germany almost two years later than it was in the US. The very sharp decline in the average stagger around July 2003 clearly indicates where this film ceases to affect the rolling German average. If this film were to be removed from the German sample, the pattern would be very much closer to that shown by the Spanish data, with a starting average of 11.4 weeks, rather than the 15 week gap currently shown. In either case, the average would fall significantly over the analysis period, ending with a 7.1 week stagger.

This is to be expected, however, given that the theatrical-to-DVD release windows in Europe have shrunk much more rapidly than in the US. The closure of the rental-only window over the analysis period, in conjunction with increasingly standardised release strategies, have ensured that theatrical-to-retail DVD release windows in Europe are now much closer in length to those seen in the US. It is thus inevitable that the decline in the US-to-European DVD stagger is greater than that at theatrical level.

As with the analysis of theatrical stagger, the analysis of US and international DVD releases does not show a strong trend toward simultaneous releasing, with the proportions of titles released simultaneously (or indeed with a stagger of more than one month) fluctuating considerably between 2002 and first half 2005 in each of the three European territories.

Perhaps more interesting, however, is a noticeable increase in the number of titles being release on DVD in Europe prior to their US DVD release. Though none of the titles received a 'negative' theatrical stagger (ie, debuted theatrical in Europe before the US), the analysis shows that an increasingly significant proportion of titles in each territory came to European retailers in advance of their US retail DVD debut.

This is particularly interesting given that some of these titles were also released simultaneously in theatres. This suggests that the comparative box office fortunes of a title in the US and in Europe can lead to substantially different release strategies for the subsequent DVD. Warner’s Troy illustrates this point well. The title was released simultaneously in cinemas in all four territories in May 2004, achieving strong results in Europe (reaching the top 5 by box office in both Germany and Spain and number eight in the UK), but falling substantially short of expectations in the US (where it ranked 13th).

The result was that the studio, presumably hoping to capitalise on the theatrical buzz, released the title much faster to European consumers than to their unimpressed US counterparts, who had to wait almost eight months (33.6 weeks) before they could buy it on DVD. Britons and Spaniards were able to buy Troy around two and a half months earlier than Americans, whilst the German DVD release was more than three and a half months before the US retail debut.

Story filed 05.02.06

Bookmark and Share

Article Comments

comments powered by Disqus