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DVD Buyers Get What They Pay For

14 Feb, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Are studios getting chintzy on their DVDs? As prices decline, particularly on the catalog end, we're seeing a conspicuous lack of the increasingly interesting and complex special features to which we've grown accustomed.

I just picked up a classic from a studio I won't name. It cost less than $10. The box promises “special features,” but I didn't bother to read the description — I figured there would surely be a little “making of” documentary and maybe an interview with some of the film's surviving cast and crewmembers.

Wrong-o. I watched the movie — brilliant — and then clicked on the special features button. All I got was a list of the cast (no bios or links) and the theatrical trailer.

Big whoop. That's the same sort of stuff I got in the early days of DVD, before Warner's The Wild Bunch came out with a ton of extras and the rush to not just spruce up, but also spice up, catalog titles began in earnest.

Now, I realize the economics in play here. Prices have dropped faster and more dramatically than anyone could have envisioned — anyone except maybe Warren Lieberfarb, who has never shied away from his desire to have everything priced at about $10 and available anywhere and everywhere things are sold. And it's hard to imagine a studio spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to film and produce a “making of” documentary when the finished product is going straight to Wal-Mart's new $5.88 DVD dump bin.

But for catalog titles, there's so much canned stuff in the vaults that surely some enterprising DVD producer can come up with something interesting and compelling without bursting the purse. And I think DVD is hardly as price-sensitive as some studios (and Wal-Mart) seem to think. I would have happily spent $12 or even $15 on this same title, maybe even $20 if it had that coveted “special edition” label across the top.

And that brings me to another point — why dump bare-bones editions of classic movies into the market at all? Wouldn't it be better to be a little more selective and come out with a handful of quality products each month? I would bet that overall revenue and profits back to the studios would be about the same. What you lose on volume, higher margins would make up.

I can see the logic in releasing vast amounts of products at impulse prices in the early days of the format, but not now, when there's already so much stuff out there. I can understand $15 or even $10, but $5?

Forget it. At five bucks, the message you're sending to the consumer is that this disc isn't really worth owning, or putting in your collection. And, sadly, that perception is only reinforced when the consumer slips this disc into his machine and finds the movie and not much else.



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