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DVD Swapping Makes Sense

13 Apr, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

We knew it would happen, but like much of DVD adoption, the saturation point is arriving faster than anyone predicted.

I'm not saying DVD sales will be flat from now on — or even this year — but face it, folks, there are some things you can't expand. People's budgets may get bigger, but they still only have so much time for entertainment and just so much space to store video.

Yet DVD has gotten so ubiquitous, so cheap, that people are finding more ways to share their libraries. How cheap? Wal-Mart has been offering catalog titles for $5.44 for ages. Last week, Wherehouse Music's circular offered a progressive-scan DVD player for $20 after a $20 mail-in rebate. That brings the cost of a player and a DVD well under the cost of a movie date. No wonder theatrical ticket sales are down!

Several factors have combined to push prices down. Among them: the studios themselves, pre-viewed sales, and the durability that lets people share their DVDs with reasonable certainty that they will be returned in good condition.

So it was not that surprising to see an article in Stanford University's student newspaper a week or so ago saying the student-run campus video store was shutting down. Not only because of downloads, but also because students had begun sharing their DVD libraries. Anyone who put themselves through college can recall how scarce money was during those years. Even if each person in a dorm or student community only lent one disc, it would decrease rentals and sales on that title in the group.

It's not even a small stretch to think that neighborhoods will come up with their own DVD lending and viewing clubs. Soccer moms gathering on the sidelines may lament how much of their DVD budget goes to kidvid and discover they can share and swap to meet their own needs, which unlike their kids' preferences, in most cases don't include watching a title until they have memorized every word.

Something like this must already have begun, because the Web site DVDJones.com lets users keep track of what they have lent to whom, and invite more friends to join.

Then there is the social DVD experience, dubbed “movieoke.” This mutation is a welcome addition for those of us who can't carry a tune in a bucket. Fans project a movie onto a big screen, then get up and act out parts a la Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's just one more way consumers have found to share their entertainment.

So DVD still has time on the heavy sales meter, but even that clock is ticking. The market will reach a saturation point. It might send some folks back to rentals, especially when they can rent by subscription, but in the end the sales will flatten out as people learn that sharing gives them more bang for their entertainment bucks.

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