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NATO to Studios: Abandon Unrated DVDs

14 Mar, 2007 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Forget tension among movie-theater operators over the shrinking box office release window. A new culprit apparently is uncensored movies.

During opening comments March 13 at the annual ShoWest confab in Las Vegas, John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), called upon the studios to do away with releasing unrated versions of major box office movies on DVD.

Fithian said by releasing unrated and uncensored editions on DVD the studios strike a “cheap shot” at the movie ratings system, which he said theater owners, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and parent groups have been working together to better enforce and educate the movie-going public about.

“It is frankly galling to see marketing campaigns designed around the very fact that a movie is unrated and uncensored,” Fithian said. “That … undermines everything we strive to accomplish in partnership with America's parents.”

The CEO said he understood the marketing appeal unrated DVDs have at retail, but said the integrity of the rating system depends upon the studios' respect for the system.“Ideally, all movies in every venue would be rated,” Fithian said. “At an absolute minimum, no movie should ever be marketed on the basis that it flouts the rating system.”

Ralph Tribbey, editor of The DVD Release Report, doubts the studios will do away with uncut releases anytime soon.

“The studios have found something that is pure gold,” he said.

Tribbey called the MPAA rating system a sham, with determining criteria for ‘G,' ‘PG,' ‘PG-13,' ‘R' and ‘NC-17' ratings largely subjective.

He said the ratings system was useful in the 1960s and 1970s when movie content changed to compete with television. Tribbey said Hollywood had to offer edgier fare, but at the same time couldn't risk having a parent exclaim, “You just saw what?”

Although he didn't address unrated DVDs at ShoWest, MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman lauded the movie ratings system, which he said enjoyed an 80% parental approval rating, compared to 50% in the 1970s.

Regardless, Fithian said he and Glickman soon will unveil changes to the ratings process designed to make it more transparent, understandable and useful.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment lead the majors with 23 and 18 uncut special edition releases, respectively since 2004, according to The DVD Release Report.

Since 2004, major studios (including Lionsgate and New Line Home Entertainment) have released fewer than 100 uncut DVD editions of box office fare, according to The DVD Release Report.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment has released 15 unrated editions, followed by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment with 13 such editions, including the Epic Movie, which is due out May 22.

Lionsgate has 12 unrated DVD editions on the market.

MGM Home Entertainment has six uncut releases, including National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, streeting March 27.

Paramount Home Entertainment has a total of four unrated titles, including Payback: Straight Up — The Director's Cut, coming April 10.

Interestingly, Warner Home Video has just four uncut special-edition major releases in circulation.

Genius Products, which distributes The Weinstein Co. movies, has released seven unrated editions, excluding Black Christmas, which streets April 3. DreamWorks has released six uncut DVD editions.

Meanwhile, windows still are a concern for theater owners.

Fithian announced that average theatrical release windows for movies that grossed more than $100 million reversed recent trends and actually grew from four months and 12 days in 2005 to four months and 23 days in 2006.

However, for movies exceeding $50 million at the box office, the average release window fell to four months and nine days, from four months and 12 days in 2005.

The release window for titles grossing less than $50 million dropped 10 days last year, to four months and eight days, which Fithian said has resulted in the perception that a short theatrical release translates into a bad movie.

“I ask that our studio partners resist the impulse to reinforce that potentially embarrassing association between short windows and bad movies,” Fithian said.

A spokesperson from the Entertainment Merchants Association (formerly VSDA) deferred comment to the MPAA.

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