Film industry imposes 30-day blackout on VCDs and DVDs as cinemas step up battle to retain audiences

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2002, 12:00am

An embargo to stop films being released on VCD and DVD within a month of screenings at cinemas is being introduced in an attempt to increase box-office takings.

The embargo, introduced by the Hong Kong Theatres Association, covers most SAR cinemas and aims to protect its members against VCDs that come out shortly after - or even before - a film ends its cinema run.

The association has issued a binding internal guideline to all film distributors through two industry bodies it has agreements with, asking them not to release films on VCD or DVD within at least 30 days of their cinema run ending. The scheme, which will take effect next Friday, encompasses local and foreign film distributors.

The president of the association, Chui Hin-wah, said the measure would help to stem declining revenue at cinemas caused by fierce competition from VCDs and DVDs.

'The situation is getting worse. Very often, we have film releases available on VCDs immediately after the theatre run,' Mr Chui said. 'People just buy the discs instead of going to the cinema. It's hard to estimate the loss of revenue.

'The new measure will certainly increase the income of cinemas. We believe the distributors would go along with the rule as 30 days isn't too long a period.'

Mr Chui declined to reveal the penalty for film distributors breaking the agreement. But the South China Morning Post understands that those breaching the agreement will face a penalty of $5,000. At present, there is only tacit agreement between individual cinemas and distributors regarding when the latter are allowed to bring out a film on VCD or DVD, Mr Chui said.

A VCD shopowner in Quarry Bay said a number of movies, including local hits Let's Sing Along and A Fighter's Blues, were available on VCD less than a month after they finished their cinema run. 'Most of the early releases are local productions. For foreign movies, they are usually out more than a month after they close at cinemas,' he said.

China Star Entertainment, the distributor of Let's Sing Along - released on disc format yesterday after its cinema run ended on January 10 - said the embargo period was acceptable.

'We welcome the change as it would protect the interest of cinemas. Thirty days is not that long and we will be co-operative,' a spokeswoman said.

However, she voiced fears that movie piracy could creep in as the 30-day period might tempt viewers to turn to bootleg copies.

'We do worry about a revival of rampant piracy. It calls for more stringent control by the Customs [and Excise Department],' she said.

One industry figure also expressed reservations over the embargo. 'Past experience told us that if you don't release a VCD copy early, people may turn to pirated copies,' he said.