Today was the first day of ShoWest, the annual convention on cinema exhibition and distribution held in Las Vegas, and while I was expecting to see some new strategies regarding the war on piracy, the first order of business focused instead on the European release-window debate. After witnessing the bold threats and actions of cinemas in Germany and in the UK, I should have known this would be a hot topic this year. The concerns with shrinking windows between theatrical release and video release is not solely European, though. Now it has become a main concentration of the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), which is like the global version of our own National Association of Theatre Owners.

UNIC president Ad Westrate says foreign cinemas are currently pushing for legislation against the shrinking of release windows by Hollywood studios and their international distributors. France already has such a law, where the window is set at six months. The cinemas of other countries are hoping that law will serve as the model for other nations. Hollywood will be fighting hard against such legislation, of course, and it is likely to continue blaming piracy as the motive. Paramount Pictures International president Andrew Cripps insisted today that there can't be such limits because of the changing demands of the marketplace.

With the studios earning a major part of their grosses from foreign markets, it would make sense for Cripps and others to at least respect the concerns of the cinemas, but as we know from Hollywood's treatment of domestic theaters, we can't expect any easy compromise in the future. Another concern brought up today, which has also been an important issue here, is who should have to pay for digital projectors and how can the transition be quickly accomplished. Perhaps some foreign cinemas can form their own version of the DCIP group recently created -- though previously formed and financed -- by AMC, Regal, and Cinemark.