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TK's MORNING BUZZ: Studios Cast a Serious Eye Toward Digital Technology, Putting DVD Development Up With Sales and Marketing

17 Oct, 2000 By: Thomas K. Arnold

What an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment executives yesterday shuttled members of the trade press into the Frank G. Wells theater on the Disney lot in Burbank for hour-long presentations of the studio's two big-bang DVD releases, Toy Story/Toy Story 2 and Fantasia/Fantasia 2000. The focus was on the three-disc "deluxe editions," in which each film occupies one disc while the third consists solely of extra features and supplemental material.

Senior v.p. Bob Chapek, who sources say is the heir apparent to departing division president Mitch Koch, concedes Disney is playing catchup in the DVD arena, having entered the market late and at a price point a lot higher than anyone else. The Toy Story/Toy Story 2 two-pack, which streets today, carries a suggested retail price of just $39.99, about the same Disney was charging for stripped-down single-disc versions of its animated hits a year ago.

The product is tantalizing, and I can honestly say the Toy Story three-pack, called "The Ultimate Toy Box," outshines anything I've ever seen before. Even the menus are animated, while the special features include everything from the original 1988 short, Tin Toy, to a virtual toy store of outtakes, deleted animations, interviews, behind-the-scenes shots, and even some Easter Eggs.

But the wonderful job Disney has done on these two projects is overshadowed by an even more significant move: after a brief introduction, Chapek turned the podium over to Chris Carey, Buena Vista's "senior v.p. of technical operations."

Carey represents a new breed of home video executive. The primary function of Carey and his staff is to plan, develop, strategize and spruce up DVD releases. The fact that Carey bears the same senior v.p. title previously reserved, not just at Disney but throughout the home video industry, for the heads of sales, marketing and operations signals that studios are casting a serious eye toward digital technology and putting DVD development right up there with sales and marketing.

Disney isn't the only studio to put a group of executives in charge of DVD development, but as far as I know Carey is the first to be trotted into the limelight with a senior v.p. title.

Disney's both-guns-blazing commitment to DVD is designed to capitalize on a market that's growing faster than anyone envisioned. And yet Disney will be both beneficiary and catalyst for future growth. Of all the major studios, Disney caters primarily to a family audience.

And once the family jumps on the DVD bandwagon, I'd say the day will soon come when we can all kiss our sweet VHS goodbye.

As Russ Solomon, the patriarch of Tower Records and Video, once told me, tape is an imperfect medium, a transition format. The music industry has already transitioned from tape to disc. Now it's home video's turn.

Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com

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