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Disney's Recession-Era Entertainment

Disney opens its "Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience" on about 1,200 screens Friday. The move is a short 76 minutes but it's expected to yield big margins for movie theaters and Disney. This film following the boy band's 2008 concert tour is the ultimate recession era entertainment. Kids (and their parents) get to experience a concert for just a fraction of the price of a concert ticket. Disney benefits from a much lower budget than usual—concert films are usually fairly inexpensive to produce. Movie theaters like that the film is short—they can squeeze in many more screenings each day. And theaters and Disney cash in on 3-D ticket prices, an average of $3 more than an average ticket. It's a win-win-win.

The Jonas Brothers are on track for a big opening weekend. MovieTickets.com reported that 700 showings were sold out—as of 2 pm eastern on Wednesday. Half of all the tickets sold on MovieTickets.com are for the concert film. Last year Disney's "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour" brought in $31.1 million its opening weekend on just 683 3-D screens. On about twice as many screens, the Jonas Brothers should easily bring in at least $30 million this weekend alone.

But it's not all-good news in 3-D land: there are more 3-D films being released than there are sufficient theaters to show them. Jonas Brothers' opening means 3-D "Coraline" from Focus Features will be reduced to 300 screens or fewer. This despite the fact that "Coraline" has been successful, so the introduction of a new 3-D film is effectively cannibalizing the success of the last one by cutting its run short.

Hollywood studios have invested in producing 3-D movies but the number of theaters hasn't caught up. The rollout of digital 3-D screens has been slowed down by the recession -- the credit crunch hammering the ability to finance the conversion. DreamWorks Animation hopes its 3-D "Monsters vs. Aliens" film will be able to open on 2,200 3-D screens in North America when it opens March 27. There are 40 3-D films scheduled to be released over the next few years, including Disney/Pixar's "Up" due out on May 29, and highly-anticipated James Cameron's "Avatar" from Fox in December. Hollywood's got the goods and people want to see the films.

Now the studios need to work with the movie theaters to make sure they've got the capacity.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.