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A ‘Believe It or Not' List for the Video Biz

1 Apr, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Happy April Fool's Day — and April Fool's Day weekend, if there is such a beast. For your reading pleasure, I've assembled a list of news stories that years ago surely would have been considered April Fool's jokes, with no chance of ever becoming reality:

1. Six months away from launch, there is still no standard next-generation optical-disc format. When DVD was launched, a compromise was worked out more than a year in advance, giving the format plenty of time to get its kinks ironed out, and all parties lined up for a cohesive, uniform launch. In the turbulent Blu-ray Disc vs. HD-DVD battle, each side is still standing firm in the trenches, leading me to doubt whether a fall launch for HD-DVD is really going to happen. Privately, I've been told orders are being put on hold, and that realistically no product's going to appear in stores until early to mid-2006.

2. Movie Gallery is buying Hollywood Entertainment Corp. It's like the Dukes of Hazzard taking over the Los Angeles police department.

3. Video is saving the music industry. CD sales recovered a bit last year after three consecutive years of dramatic declines, but first-quarter results indicate a relapse. The only bright spot: Music DVDs and the DualDisc, a DVD-CD hybrid. They're small chunks of the market, but rapidly catching on. Call it the legacy of the MTV generation — we want to see as well as hear.

4. Video is making TV relevant. Watching videos or TV shows used to be an either/or proposition, but not any longer. Credit TV DVD, a true pop cultural phenomenon even studio presidents admit caught them by surprise. I watch more TV shows than ever, and yet I couldn't begin to tell you the weekly network lineup. That's because all my series-viewing is being done in DVD. I'm not tied down to any schedule, and there are no commercials, to boot.

5. The definitive version of a film ain't what you see in the theater. Oh, we've been hearing for eons about directors being unhappy with studio-mandated edits. But it wasn't until DVD that they could strike back.

6. Blockbuster drops late fees. Late fees for years had been a critical component of the rental retailer's revenue. But traditional rental's hurting so bad that dealers are doing everything in their power to make renting a video a more pleasant experience — even if it means dinging their bottom line.

7. It's cheaper to buy than to rent. Price erosion has been so great that you can buy virtually any movie older than a year for $5 or $7 at the mass merchants — less than the weekly rental fees charged by the big rental chains in years past. We're also seeing a growing crop of $1 DVDs. Remember back when indies were screaming about supermarkets charging a buck to rent a video?

By the way, I'm leaving Home Media Retailing to start my own VHS-only rental shop. I think I'll specialize in Beta.

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