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TK's Take

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TK's Take

Insights from home entertainment industry experts. Home Media blogs give you the inside scoop on entertainment news, DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, and the happenings at key studios and entertainment retailers. “TK's Take” analyzes and comments on home entertainment news and trends, “Agent DVD Insider” talks fanboy entertainment, “IndieFile” delivers independent film news, “Steph Sums It Up” offers pithy opinions on the state of the industry, and “Mike’s Picks” offers bite-sized recommendations of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases.

January 31, 2011
Honoring Eisuke Tsuyuzaki

Eisuke Tsuyuzaki with Thomas K. Arnold, Home Media Magazine's publisher.

Eisuke Tsuyuzaki is one of those intriguing individuals who believes technology is like a ball of putty, to be rolled, kneaded, shaped and formed into wonderful new inventions we simply can’t live without. He’s considered the consumer electronics industry’s key point man in Hollywood, a man who is as much at ease navigating the hallways and conference rooms of the movie studios as he is dealing with his hardware peers on the East Coast and in his native Japan.

Tsuyuzaki is being honored as Home Media Magazine’s 2010 Home Entertainment Visionary for one simple reason: He’s on a plateau all by himself. The two bright spots on home entertainment’s horizon are Blu-ray Disc and 3D, and Tsuyuzaki, the chief technology officer for Panasonic Corp. of North America, is all over both of them.

While the high-definition format war was still raging, Tsuyuzaki was on the front lines of the Blu-ray army’s successful campaign for the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of consumers. He orchestrated partnerships with such studios as Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox and MGM on grand co-promotions and joint marketing efforts, including the very successful Disney Magical Blu-ray Tour, which Panasonic sponsored. After the format war ended, Tsuyuzaki turned his sights to mainstream America, staging a series of events at NASCAR races.

Not long thereafter, Tsuyuzaki moved on to the next technological marvel in Panasonic’s stable, high-definition 3D, and once again set out on the road to acquaint the masses with this new way to view entertainment at home. The Panasonic Unwrap 3D Tour hit malls in 14 cities in a two-week period right before the 2010 holiday season, showing off Panasonic’s award-winning line of HD 3D plasma TVs, Blu-ray Disc players, eyewear and various 3D digital imaging products, among them Panasonic’s first consumer 3D camcorder and the world’s first digital camera with an interchangeable 3D lens.

Tsuyuzaki also has built long and lasting ties to Hollywood’s creative community. One of the biggest feathers in his cap: helping forge Panasonic’s relationship with acclaimed director James Cameron and his 3D epic Avatar, the highest-grossing movie in history.

If the legendary showman P.T. Barnum were still alive, it’s a fair bet he would try to hire Tsuyuzaki, even though the 44-year-old executive is a lot more understated in his pitch. While Barnum employed bombast, Tsuyuzaki uses passion and sincerity — his genuine belief that first Blu-ray Disc and now 3D truly represents the future of home entertainment and is of immense benefit to the consumer.

I caught up with Tsuyuzaki recently at his favorite Japanese restaurant in Brentwood, his current home and one of three places where he now bides most of his time (the others are New York and Silicon Valley). We talked a little about the state of the home entertainment business, the future of packaged media and the advantages to consumers posed by both Blu-ray Disc and 3D. We also spoke about what he’d like to do in the future, once the consumer transition to Blu-ray Disc is complete and 3D establishes itself as a viable component of the home entertainment market.

“I’m fascinated by technology,” he says. “It truly is a wonderful word.”

Down the road, Tsuyuzaki says, he could see himself twisting and turning future technological advances toward such bigger world issues as climate change and global warming.

“The potential for technology to really change our lives, for the better, has never been greater,” Tsuyuzaki says.

And with people such as Eisuke Tsuyuzaki in the driver’s seat, I have no doubt that we’ll continue to see new and wondrous technological developments come along, developments that will enhance and improve our lives.

By: Thomas K. Arnold

January 23, 2011
What Really Killed the CD?

A good friend of mine emailed me an interesting article the other day he had come across on CNET, the popular destination site for all things high-tech. The article detailed the imminent closing of one of Sony's two remaining U.S.-based CD manufacturing plants, in South Jersey, a move that will put 300 workers out of a job. A Sony spokesman said the plant, which was built more than 50 years ago to produce vinyl LPs, is being shuttered because of the still-troubled economy and ever-waning consumer interest in the CD.

The zinger: The article maintains the CD is dying not just because of the iPod and the digital distribution model it represents, but, rather, illegal file-sharing, a practice born more than a decade ago when the record companies, in a series of stupid moves, opened the doors to piracy by first killing off the single, since the birth of recorded music the only available sampling mechanism other than the radio, and then jacking up the list price of the CD to as much as $21.98. When consumers rebelled and began using the Internet to share music, the record companies didn't capitalize on the potential new business model of digitally distributed music, but, rather, took to the courts to fight their own customers. Ultimately they realized their folly and took a seat at the table--but by then, a transformative mindset change had already taken place. And it is this mindset change, that music is not something that must be paid for, continues to dog the music business to this day. As the CNET story says, "innovation isn't the only reason CDs look long in the tooth. After a decade of rampant illegal file sharing, they'd argue, the plant closure is a sign that the CD just couldn't compete with free."

The home entertainment industry has handled the digital migration in a much smarter fashion--aided and abetted by the fact that consumers will be a lot slower in giving up their DVDs and Blu-ray Discs than their CDs. The reason, of course, is that consumers have always bought music by the song, not by the album, and an individual song can be downloaded in a matter of seconds. It's cheap, a lot cheaper than buying a CD (remember, no more singles!), and it's easy. Our business doesn't work that way--no one buys a movie by the scene. Downloading a two-hour movie can take a lot of time, particularly if it's in high definition--and at $12 to $20 a pop, it can be as pricey a proposition as buying a DVD or Blu-ray Disc. No wonder electronic sellthrough, as this end of the business is known, isn't exactly taking off like wildfire--there's no compelling advantage over buying a physical disc.

Streaming, of course, is another story. The segment of the population that wants to own and collect movies, I believe, was artificially inflated by the novelty of the DVD. And now that things are settling back down to normal, consumers--at least a healthy percentage of them--are going back to rental, and more and more, they're doing it digitally, either through VOD or iVOD.

This brings us back to the original premise of the CNET story: That the CD was done in by file-sharing, not digital distribution. That danger lurks in our industry, as well. Granted, the same obstacle to EST exists in the shady underground as well: it's a hassle to download and share an entire movie. But the rash of mobile and portable devices that employ much-smaller file sizes--who needs high-definition on a three-inch screen?--is something we all need to be aware of. And as download speeds become faster and faster, ultimately there will come a day when a full movie, even in glorious high-definition, can be downloaded in a matter of seconds.

We need to be ready for that day. As the CNET story says, it's hard to compete with free.


By: Thomas K. Arnold

January 07, 2011
This Year's CES Is All About Fun

The author with the DEG's Amy Jo Smith and Warren Lieberfarb.

After spending three hours walking the convention center floor at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this afternoon, I briefly closed my eyes and visualized a giant yellow smiley face.

This year's CES certainly won't be remembered for innovation. 3D, which was all over the place, was actually introduced at last year's show. And tablets, the other Big Deal, originated with Apple's iPad, and Apple is conspicuously absent, choosing to stage its own shindig rather than share the spoils here in Las Vegas.

But that's OK with me. The lack of innovation has lowered the pressure level on exhibitors, so instead of trying to outdo each other they're simply refining their products and having a ball while they're at it.

The Panasonic booth had all sorts of viewing stations where visitors can watch music, games, sports, movies, you name it in state-of-the-art 3D. Among all the competing formats out there, Panasonic, for my money, has the best 3D, and the company certainly celebrated its leadership position by focusing on the fun factor more than anything else. No more hard sell on 3D--just a demonstration of how fun it can be to watch.

20th Century Fox deserves kudos for using CES to announce the September 2011 release of the Star Wars franchise on Blu-ray Disc. Again, nothing really new here--we all knew the films were eventually going to be released on Blu-ray Disc--but by making the announcement here at CES 20th Century Fox brought a little bit of Hollywood to the show floor. It was, well, fun.

I also got a kick out of Smart TV, which lets you toss the remote and instead manipulate your television with a hand clap or other gesture; Casio's new line of digital cameras and online editing program that lets you turn photos into works of art ("It's time we brought some fun to digital photography," the pitchman said during the stage presentation"); and Microsoft's Windows 7 display, with demonstrations on how to use such features as Windows Live to create wonderful movies and slide shows.

I also liked the book-like cover for the Kindle, the really cool new video game chairs (including one with pockets for snacks, extra games and even the Guitar Hero guitar, so Junior never has to get up except to go the bathroom), and these caps that let you snap your smart phone under an extended brim so you can create your own little movie theater.

Fun, fun, fun.

The mood of the attendees and exhibitors, even those from the studios, also seemed remarkably upbeat, with plenty of optimism that the economy is going to get better and these fun new devices will catch on with consumers.

A few more random thoughts and observations from the show floor:

--I never would have imagined seeing so many different skins, cases and protective coverings for iPhones and iPod Touches. There were aisles and aisles of them--a whole new industry for a product made by a company that doesn't even exhibit here.

--Why are we still seeing car DVD players? Let's go Blu-ray. I know, the picture doesn't really matter on such a small screen, but there are two other compelling reasons why we should ditch DVD and put Blu-ray players in cars: 1) better disc protection (Blu-ray Discs have a protective coating, while DVDs don't) and 2) flexibility (I know combo packs have become increasingly common, but in many cases consumers still have to choose between buying the DVD or buying the Blu-ray Disc). Blu-ray turns 5 this year. By now, everyone should be onboard.

--It was good seeing Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD, at the DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group event Thursday night. If it wasn't for Warren, our business might not have survived as long as it has. We all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.

By: Thomas K. Arnold

December 22, 2010
Yes, Virginia, There IS a Disc Business!

I take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time my great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of Home Media Magazine:

Dear Editor—

I am 8 years old. Some of my friends in the consumer media say the packaged media business is dying. DVD sales are falling, fast; Blu-ray Disc has yet to really catch on; and the whole world is moving toward electronic delivery. Papa says, “If you see it in Home Media Magazine, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is the packaged media business dying?

Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they are told. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a vibrant and viable packaged media business. It exists in stores large and small, by mail, in vending machines. People are still enjoying movies, TV shows and other entertainment on disc, and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. To be sure, they may have slowed the pace of buying DVDs, but more and more of them are switching to Blu-ray Disc and starting their collections all over again, albeit at a slower pace due to the troubled economy. Others have gone back to renting, since renting a movie, thanks to Netflix and Redbox, has never been cheaper or easier. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no packaged media business! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no true high-definition picture, no movie theater sound, no extras, no special features, no commentaries! We should have no enjoyment, except that which we glean from our computers. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Packaged media dying? Not hardly, Virginia. To the contrary, it lives and will likely live on and on and on. It will continue to make glad the heart of childhood, and be the preferred way of bringing entertainment into the home — and keeping it in our homes, to cherish and enjoy over and over again — for a long, long time.

(Apologies to Frank P. Church and the New York Sun.) 

By: Thomas K. Arnold

December 13, 2010
More 'Discs are Dying' BS

The barrage of reports in the press that DVD and even Blu-ray Discs are relics of a bygone era and everything's moving to the Internet would have you believe that all of us in the home entertainment business had better look for new jobs.

The 24/7 Wall St. website even went so far as to post a story on "The Five Businesses That Killed the DVD" (to read it, click here), even though two of those businesses, Netflix and Internet-enabled Blu-ray Disc players, are actually helping the disc stay alive. Despite lots of talk about streaming, Netflix is still very much a disc-based rental service, and while consumers seem to be enjoying the ability to stream movies as well, a point could be made that we won't know how deep that enjoyment runs until Netflix starts charging consumers for the privilege instead of letting them stream away for free. As for Internet-enabled Blu-ray Disc players, the whole idea of letting consumer hook up their players to the Web is to provide them with updated materials and content to supplement what's already on their disc.

It's sort of like what we're seeing in the game world: My sons, and millions of kids and young adults like them, play Call of Duty: Black Ops online, with an ever-widening circle of friends, both real and cyber. But to do so they still had to buy the disc, $650 million worth in just five days.

My point here is that while Web-based viewing, downloading and networking very well could be the wave of the future, it doesn't necessarily mean packaged media is doomed. The two don't need to be mutually exclusive.

And for those who call me an old fogey and insist "it's a generational thing," let me say this: My 8-year-old records "Spongebob" episodes from the TV and, when I'm not looking, tries to watch "South Park" episodes on YouTube. But he also covets his brother's cherished set of "Futurama" discs, housed in a huge plastic "Bender" case, and put on his Christmas list "South Park DVDs."

My two older boys, who have effectively shut little Hunter out of their lives, also enjoy YouTube and Hulu. But on weekend nights, one or the other comes downstairs and retrieves a couple of Blu-ray Disc or DVD movies to watch with his brother.

Sometimes they invite me to join them, but lately I've been declining: I'm too busy watching those wonderfully restored "Perry Mason" DVDs on the 65-inch plasma TV in our family room.

And apparently I'm not alone. We all know what a huge success Black Friday was, with consumers snapping up a grand total of more than 50 million discs, according to studio reports. Granted, most of them were purchased at rock-bottom prices, but the concept of going out and buying entertainment on a disc doesn't appear to be nearly as strange or foreign as some of these media reports suggest.

Peaceful coexistence. That's how I view the physical and digital worlds. And the moment someone proves me wrong is when I'll start updating and sending out my resume.

By: Thomas K. Arnold


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