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DVD Content Has to Come From Somewhere

3 Jun, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

I saw an interesting article the other day in my hometown paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune. The writer addressed the slump at the box office by pointing to one young man who hardly ever goes to the movies anymore. Instead, the article noted, he stays home “and watches DVDs of old movies or canceled TV shows.”

The article caught my eye because of the questions it raised. Similar stories have noted that box office woes are generally cyclical, and a down period is always followed by a recovery — sometimes sooner, sometimes later.

But this story opined that what we may be seeing is a cultural shift: that as we get more and more options and choices for our leisure time, the need for “self programming” becomes more and more critical. We like to push all the buttons, literally and figuratively; we don't like to be pinned down and have to be a certain place at a certain time to satisfying our appetites for entertainment.

Witness the freefall of network TV and now broadcast radio. The family that gathered around the TV every Monday night to watch “Gunsmoke” now splits into separate rooms to watch DVDs or niche cable programming on The History Channel or ESPN. And the commuter who listened to the top 40 has now grown weary of the relentless commercials and switched to satellite radio—or an iPod.

I'm a religious self-programmer — I've completely stopped watching TV because of the commercials and schedules and would rather wait and see my favorite show on DVD, when I can watch however many episodes I want, free from interruptions, at whatever time I want. It's the same with movies — why race through rush-hour traffic to be at a crowded multiplex at 6:45 p.m. on a Friday when I can pop a DVD into my home theater and have a much more satisfying experience?

And yet we have to be careful, because theatrical and television is still the source, the point of origin for most everything we enjoy on DVD. If we stop going to the movie theater because we only want to watch DVDs, pretty soon the quality of the movies will go down because the studios will lose a significant amount of their revenue — and a lot of awareness that comes from a wide theatrical opening.

Similarly, if we tune out, en masse, from our TV sets, new shows won't get made — and the source for all those wonderful TV DVD sets will ultimately dry up. Classic TV is a big factor, but the bulk of TV DVD revenues still come from just-completed season-sets of current series.

I think I'm going to visit the local multiplex tonight. And then let me see — I wonder what's on TV?

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