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Consumers More Educated About Difference Between Widescreen and Full-Frame DVDs

22 Oct, 2004 By: Jessica Wolf

Consumers have become more comfortable with those “black bars” at the top and bottom of the TV screen, according to video retailers and suppliers.

As consumers upgrade their home theater equipment, and TV shows such as “24,” “ER,” “Smallville” and “Enterprise” — even some commercials — air in widescreen ratios, the format is gaining wider acceptance, they said.

Consumers do tend to like widescreen versions of their favorite films on disc, they added, but that doesn't mean full-frame DVDs are going away.

“It sort of parallels the installed base of home theaters,” said Steve Feldstein, SVP of marketing communications for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. “As people upgrade their home entertainment systems, they tend to realize that what they perceived as less is actually more.”

For some of the current top-selling DVDs that streeted in the two options so far this year, the heftier sales are on the widescreen side. As of Sept. 26, according to Nielsen VideoScan data, 58 percent of sales of New Line Home Entertainment's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King were from the widescreen option; 60 percent of Warner Home Video's The Matrix Revolutions were in widescreen; and 53 percent of Fox's The Passion of the Christ were in the widescreen format. Nearly all the major studios offer at least theatrical releases in both versions, in separate SKUs.

“We always release our new theatrical titles in separate wide-screen and full-frame versions,” said Martin Blythe, VP of publicity for Paramount Home Entertainment. “We think this is the sensible thing to do right now since both formats have their appeal.”

And suppliers said they'll continue to offer two SKUs.

“From what we have seen in the marketplace, there is enough consumer demand for both widescreen and full-frame titles for the industry to support dual formats,” said Kelly Sooter, domestic head of DreamWorks Home Entertainment. “If this behavior shifts, we will adjust our product offerings accordingly. Until then, we will continue to offer both SKUs.”

Retailers will likely continue to order both, because people are definitely buying both, said Kevin Cassidy, EVP of sales and product for Tower Records and Video.

“We order both options every time out,” Cassidy said. “I think in the earlier stages of DVD, we felt as though [Tower's] was more of a widescreen customer. But in the better part of this calendar year, we've actually seen some increase in the full-frame sales.

“I think perhaps some of the late adopters are still more full-frame friendly,” he added. “We're talking about some people who bought a DVD player at its lowest sale price. They're not necessarily in a 5.1 Surround Sound mode.”

For example, first-week sales of Fox's visual-effects laden The Day After Tomorrow were about 30 percent full-frame, Cassidy noted, which is a marked increase over a full-frame sales comparable title from last year, like The Matrix Reloaded, he said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, of popular DVDs offered in widescreen and full-frame options, it's the more family-themed titles that historically have boasted greater sales on the full-frame side, according to Nielsen VideoScan data. For example, one of the top sellers of 2001, Universal Studios Home Video's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, ended its debut year on DVD with 60 percent of sales in the full-frame SKU.

Warner's release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ended 2002 with 54 percent full-frame sales. Meanwhile, at the end of 2003, sales of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, one of that year's top sellers, were split just about 50-50 between the two options.

“Everybody's been on an education process,” Fox's Feldstein said. “A lot of the media are fans of widescreen and have helped advocate it. Filmmakers are certainly fans of widescreen. But there are still a lot of households out there with 19- and 20-inch TVs, and they want their screen full.”

What has happened over the past few years, suppliers and retailers alike said, is that the consumer has learned the difference between the two options and knows which one suits him or her best.

“In the old days, we used to get a lot of calls saying ‘there's something wrong with my disc,’ Feldstein said. “That's sort of died down as the education has increased.”

Then it falls on the studios to create packaging elements that help the retailers illustrate the difference so the consumer is reaching for the right SKU for their needs.

“It's really important, and it always has been important,” Tower's Cassidy said. “I think most all the studios do a really good job at that and the packaging [of widescreen vs. full-frame], and going forward will continue to be important to us as we always try to merchandise [both options] side-by-side.”

Fox's packaging of Star Wars Trilogy, with its gold theme for full-frame SKU and silver coloring for widescreen, stands out as a good example of packaging the two options, said Brian Lucas, spokesperson for Best Buy.

Sales of Star Wars Trilogy, as of Sept. 26, were more than 80 percent widescreen, according to VideoScan data.

The retailers know their customer bases well and by-and-large know just how much to stock in each option, Fox's Feldstein said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Best Buy shoppers mostly lean toward the widescreen option, Lucas said, though it is important to the retailer to provide plenty of both options. And, even though shelf space is always an issue, the chain's buyers are savvy and have honed the process over the years to know how much of each SKU to keep in stock, he said.

Of course, there are some titles that will only come out in widescreen, Feldstein noted.

“Those tend to be the special collector's editions of certain movies where it's obvious who the target consumer is,” he said.

On the flip side, product like TV shows, which are filmed in fullframe, will continue to arrive on DVD exclusively in that format, Feldstein said.

Paramount's Blythe agreed: “It does seem likely that widescreen televisions will become more widespread in the future. However, let's not forget that a lot of our current TV catalog titles are in a full-frame aspect ratio.”

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