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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.

October 21, 2009
Media Missing the Point About Disc Decline

I sympathize with President Obama’s frustration with Fox News over what he perceives to be the network’s not-so-hidden agenda to “get” him.

Our industry has been fighting similar battles for years, but in recent months the rhetoric has been stepped up by such big mainstream media outlets as the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, both of which seem to consider it a preordained destiny that packaged media is on life support and will soon disappear altogether.
The Wall Street Journal, for example, just published a story on the Walt Disney Co.’s latest venture into electronic delivery, a quasi-secret project (dubbed “Keychest”) that would allow consumers to pay one price for permanent access to a movie across several different digital platforms or devices. The headline: “Disney Touts a Way to Ditch the DVD,” which paved the way for the writer to proclaim, “the decline in DVD revenue has undermined the business model Hollywood has relied on for more than a decade.”

Reality check: We’re in the midst of a format transition, and it’s going to take a little while for Blu-ray Disc to fully compensate for the decline in DVD. Blu-ray is, however, making significant gains, particularly in light of the troubled economy, and remains the only way for consumers to watch movies and other programs in true high-definition on their expensive new HDTVs, which are now in nearly half of all U.S. homes.

Moreover, Disney and the other studios that are aggressively going after digital delivery options aren’t trying to “ditch the DVD,” but, rather, broaden the home entertainment market to include on-the-go users armed with iPods, laptops and smart phones. Convenience is the primary selling point; the quality just isn’t there for proper viewing in the home, especially now that everyone and his brother is getting a high-def TV and snazzy home theater system. 
Not to be outdone, the Los Angeles Times took a decidedly negative spin on third-quarter home entertainment numbers issued by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, maintaining that “Hollywood’s biggest and most profitable business shrank a little slower in the third quarter than in the first half of the year, thanks entirely to rentals.” As for the dramatic gains in Blu-ray Disc sales that were duly noted in reports in our magazine and other publications, the Times had this snotty reaction: “In its news release with the data, DEG attempted to highlight sales of Blu-ray disc sales, which rose an impressive 66.3% in the quarter. That’s a substantial slowdown, however, from the category’s 91% growth in the first half of the year.”
Reality check No. 2: Blu-ray’s first-half growth rate was bigger because HD DVD only gave up six weeks into the first half of 2008, which held back sales. So it’s really an unfair comparison. What the Times should have noted is that in an economic climate where everything is down, Blu-ray is one of the few products that’s selling better than it did a year ago — and that’s a significant accomplishment, by any measure.
The Times also failed to even mention what I consider the key point in the DEG release: That the number of consumer transactions to bring entertainment into the home rose 6.6%. That tells me that consumers have hardly lost interest in home entertainment; indeed, they’re snapping up more discs than ever, which translates into a tremendous vote of confidence for packaged media.
But then again, that’s apparently not the sort of analysis the Times wants to hear.

By: Thomas K. Arnold

October 15, 2009
Backed Into a Corner

In speaking with a well-known DVD producer the other night, I was told that the age of the DVD extra is all but over. The shame of it is that formats such as DVD and Blu-ray Disc are ideal for bonus content, which really provides added value to a movie on disc.

Wanting to cut back on producing the extras is understandable in many ways, as cash-strapped studios are hoping to improve their bottom line by cutting what they don’t see as essential expenditures. And sometimes, producing DVD extras such as behind-the-scenes documentaries and retrospectives costs a lot of money. If they don’t think the added value will translate to sales, they won’t bother. Or they don’t want to risk spending the money only to see it wasted on a rental title.

For many fans, I think, extras may be the difference between buying the movie or waiting for it on cable VOD. But instead of trumpeting the primary benefit of disc — the extra room to include good bonus material — studios seem to be bypassing this key selling point in favor of cost-cutting measures that I think ultimately might devalue their product in the long run. And this is after spending millions to get the Blu-ray format off the ground.

Without the bonus content, the studios might as well just release the movies online or through VOD. And that just opens the door for more piracy.

Then again, a lot of people I talk to don’t care about the extras. This underscores the fact that, ultimately, the primary selling point of any disc is the movie or show itself. If people don’t want to make that investment because the quality of the films isn’t as good, maybe studios need to start looking there.

By: John Latchem

September 17, 2009
Leno, Late Night and the DVR Future

As Jerry Seinfeld noted on the Monday debut of “The Jay Leno Show,” Leno and Conan O’Brien had their goodbye shows and now are back. O’Brien of course moved from “Late Night” to take over “The Tonight Show” from Leno, who moved to 10 p.m. weekdays.

Seinfeld quipped that when he left his show, he didn’t come back a few months later doing the same thing. (The timing of his statement is somewhat ironic considering the upcoming “Seinfeld” reunion on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”)

The gag, of course, is funny in the context of the traditional TV model, where many pundits are watching with anticipation to see how a late-night talk show performs in primetime.

From the perspective of my DVR, I have to ask: Why does it matter?

If I’m time-shifting the programs, it doesn’t matter when they are supposed to be on, and thus it doesn’t matter if someone left one show to take over another. Basically, just the titles are different.

A year ago, I could watch Leno, then I could watch Conan. I can still do that. DVR just removes the usual expectations of when the shows air. So Leno is on at 10. If I’m watching it at 6:30 p.m. the next day, it still seems like his old show.

Conan’s “Tonight Show” isn’t too different in tone from his “Late Night,” but I’ve got to say, as a long-time fan, something seems off, as if Conan is trying to hard to be a bit more epic to match his new time slot. It’s almost like the stage is too big for his brand of comedy, which feels like it would be more at home in a more intimate club-like atmosphere, which his old show seemed to provide.

But these are the necessities of old-school network politics, which focused on time-slots and competition for ad-revenue. As DVR, and eventually VOD, becomes more prevalent in the home, these concerns will go away. Someone like Conan wouldn’t have to worry about time slots or ratings drops. Talented people would just have their own channels. We’re already seeing on Hulu and YouTube how comedy shows are being broken down into their particular segments for easy Web distribution.

Will DVR and VOD mean the end of the comedy/variety show as we know it? Probably not completely. But it will put more emphasis on who is doing the performing, not when and where.

By: John Latchem

July 17, 2009
Universal Goes With Plan BSG

'Battlestar Galactica'

The “Battlestar Galactica” saga continues this fall with the direct-to-video movie Battlestar Galactica: The Plan. Universal Studios Home Entertainment will release the movie, directed by star Edward James Olmos, Oct. 27 (prebook Sept. 8) for Blu-ray Disc, DVD and digital download.

The movie operates as sort of a sidequel to the series, in that it fills in some plot gaps and unanswered questions. The title comes from a tag from the show’s opening credit sequence which describes the robotic Cylon baddies trying to wipe out humanity: “And they have a plan.”

The DVD ($26.98) and Blu-ray ($39.98) versions include the uncensored 90-minute movie, deleted scenes, commentary and behind-the-scenes featurettes. The Blu-ray also has a BD Live trivia game.

On a related front, the upcoming Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5 and Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series (both due July 28 on DVD and Blu-ray Disc) do not include the “Face of the Enemy” webisode miniseries. Here’s hoping this chapter of the saga will eventually find its way to disc.

By: John Latchem

December 15, 2008
The Final Frontier of Electronic Delivery

As part of its promotion of the recent theatrical remake The Day the Earth Stood Still, 20th Century Fox beamed the film into outer space.

Specifically, the studio sent a transmission to Alpha Centauri, a trinary system located about 4.5 light years from Earth, and our sun’s closest interstellar neighbor.

This could open up vast untapped markets for Earth-based films, provided our alien friends don’t mind the download times. Racing through space at the speed of light, The Day the Earth Stood Still will reach Alpha Centauri around 2013.

My guess is any technologically advanced civilization that can pick up the signal will have the same reaction we on Earth seem to be having: They remade this why, exactly?

Maybe for comparison we should throw the Blu-ray version of the superior 1951 original on the next NASA probe.

This all seems endemic of one of the core problems facing Hollywood — focusing on clever marketing tricks while letting quality slip through the cracks.

I wonder what promoters have up their sleeves for when the new “Star Trek” movie comes out in May. Your move, Paramount.

By: John Latchem


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