Tensions between Disney and the French movie industry have come to a head over the country’s unusual requirement that studios provide exhibitors with an extended, exclusive theatrical window for new releases.
The French government mandates that distributors support the financial well-being of their partners in the exhibition by agreeing not to offer new releases on streaming for as long as 36 months after their debut in theatres. This requirement is referred to as l’exception culturelle (cultural exception), with the rationale being that theatres are artistic institutions that should be protected for the benefit of society.
Of course, studios take a different position and are generally opposed to the government stepping in to distort the free market. Disney has warned that it may be forced to skip theatres entirely so that it can launch its new releases on Disney+ instead. While it has agreed to release BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER in theatres, the fate of the animated title STRANGE WORLD and the entire slate of new titles in 2023 is still in doubt.
Disney is well-known for using hardball tactics when negotiating distribution terms, and the current tensions may be Disney’s attempt to exact concessions from French exhibitors. Streamers Netflix and Amazon have tried to smooth out ruffled feathers by making contributions to a French cultural fund that supports exhibitors and Disney may do the same. The French government and studios have scheduled a new round of negotiations over distribution practices beginning next January.