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DVD Producers Straddle Mature, Emerging Markets

23 Jul, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

SAN DIEGO — DVD producers answered fans questions about new high-def formats at Comic-Con, and urged fans to let studios know they want special features on DVD, at the annual DigitalBits.com DVD-producer panel Saturday, July 22.

“The truth is, studios are bored of special features,” said DVD producer Robert Meyer Burnett, who's worked on the special-edition discs for The Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Superman Returns. “They'd rather get rid of them all together; it's very expensive to send a crew to work on DVD extras for a big movie like Narnia, and there's no real cost-benefit analysis for the studios.”

“But I would argue that DVD succeeded so well in part because of the extras,” he added.

Studios are increasingly releasing titles in separate units — that is, a plain DVD version and a special-features one.

That's really the only way for them to quantify the value of extras, said Andy Mangels, who spearheads BCI Eclipse's release slate of classic animated shows like “He-Man,” “She-Ra,” “Groovie Goolies,” “Prince Valiant” and many more.

“Believe it or not, that [sales] number is kind of depressing,” Burnett added.

Burnett told the Comic-Con audience to keep studios aware of their desire for special features by asking for them and buying discs that have them.

Other DVD lovers in attendance were worried about backward-compatibility for new formats like HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

One fan waved a notebook holding his list of DVDs. “I never bought movies before DVD, now I have 2,000; am I going to have to go and buy them all again for high-def?”

Panelists were quick to assure the questioner and the audience in general that not only are the new hardware formats backward-compatible with DVD, but that in general, they will upconvert the image of the DVD to a higher quality.

“Your DVDs are going to look better than they ever have,” said panel moderator Bill Hunt, owner/editor of TheDigitalBits.com, which was recently named to Entertainment Weekly's top 20 entertainment Web sites.

Still, panelists warned it will be some time before either format takes firm hold on the market. And it will be a while before high-def discs are truly created with all the bells and whistles they have the potential for, panelists said. It will mirror DVD, which also didn't have much in the way of extras the first couple of years, they said.

“I don't think it's going to be very stable for a long time,” said Charles de Lauzirika, whose DVD production resume includes Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator and the upcoming Blade Runner special edition. “The studios are still working it out."

Scott Devine, who works on TV DVD releases like “Friends,” “Justice League,” “Batman Beyond” and “La Femme Nikita,” agreed: “It's going to blow your socks off, but it's going to be a few years yet.”

Just like DVD led consumers to upgrade their home-theater systems, the new high-def formats will likely lead to consumers leaping into even more elaborate setups, Burnett said.

Of course, digital downloading is on the rise, and these formats could very well be a stopgap in that technology adoption too, panelists said.

There is some potential though, in the downloading sphere, to maintain and continually update movie extras, they said.

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