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For somebody somewhere, the third time is a charm

16 Jan, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

People within and outside the industry of it are trying to read things into the recent departures of three of the six major studio home video presidents, one after the other.

I just got an email from the entertainment editor of a big newspaper asking me what it all meant.

I'll tell you what I told her: Nothing. There is no connection between the departures of Pat Wyatt from Fox, Warren Lieberfarb from Warner and Eric Doctorow from Paramount. One left to start her own business, one got fired because he angered the wrong people and the third simply did not have his contract renewed.

It's not a mass repudiation of DVD policies, nor a power grab among theatrical honchos who feel that with DVD the home video units are becoming too big for their britches. It's coincidence, that's all — nothing more sinister than an affirmation of the adage that things seem to happen in threes.

That said, I will say that one change is afoot: The so-called “Lieberfarb strategy” of low DVD prices and mass distribution appears to be gaining acceptance at more studios, most notably Paramount, where I can just imagine studio chief Jonathan Dolgen waking up in the middle of the night shortly before the New Year wit h the startling revelation: DVD just might be here to stay and the VHS cassette may, in fact, be on its way out.

The Lieberfarb strategy certainly appears to be working, as studios that have embraced it — Warner Home Video, of course, along with Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment — are enjoying banner years in the sales department. Other studios pushing the proverbial envelope on DVD, like Fox, are also reaping the rewards. Maybe Dolgen just felt it was high time Paramount joined the party.

But at the same time the Lieberfarb strategy appears to be well on its way to becoming the Magna Carta of home entertainment, there's a warning in some circles that perhaps it is time we apply the brakes.

One studio chief who asked his name not be used is thinking twice about releasing loads of catalog product in the coming year. Prices have come down way too far, and way too fast, he says, for a speedy migration of all things catalog to DVD. Better to sit back and play the high-priced special edition game than dump everything into the market all at once and end up being priced right out of the profit picture by studios that have already gone to the vaults once and now are selling almost everything they've got for $10 or less.

Hmmm. Focus on quality special editions that retail for around $20 or more and hold back on the catalog until prices stabilize a bit? That sounds an awful lot like what Paramount was doing all along.

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