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Fans Get Red-Carpet Treatment

20 Sep, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner


Studios are always eager to please consumers with their products, but few, if any, consumer groups command the respect of the Home Theater Forum (HTF).

Sixty delegates from the Internet discussion board (www. hometheaterforum.com) are getting the red-carpet welcome from studios during their annual Hollywood pilgrimage this week.

“Most studios give us an entire morning or afternoon with their DVD production team. After a tour of the studio lot, we are treated to either a screening of an upcoming title or an extensive walk through the supplementals of a hot holiday title,” said Ron Epstein, who co-owns HTF with Parker Clack.

Members' devotion to the medium earns them visits with DVD producers, authors and restorers as well as audiences with home entertainment executives for a week each year.

“These are 60 guys who are flying themselves out from all over the world on their own dime,” said 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment EVP Peter Staddon, whom Epstein acknowledges was among the first to see the potential in engaging the group. “They are obviously a bunch of enthusiasts, and they talk about product. The site gets a lot of hits on a daily basis. It is very little effort on our part to spend a day with these guys.”

HTF delegates have a full schedule of studio tours, screenings and demonstrations this week, with visits planned to most of the major suppliers, including Fox, Paramount, Columbia TriStar, DreamWorks, Universal and Warner.

“Home Theater Forum offers the studios a way to address consumer questions in a collegial manner,” said Paramount spokesman Martin Blythe. “We have a good give and take.”

HTF's clout is word of mouse. As a group of film enthusiasts, the group engages in ongoing online discussions of everything from pan-and-scan vs. widescreen to new releases, wish lists and next-generation formats. The group serves as a consumer pulse for studios and in some cases, rumor control.

“We get to show them some of what is coming out in the fourth quarter so they can start a buzz if they like it,” Staddon said. So this week they will get, at long last, a preview of the long-awaited original “Star Wars” movies on DVD. Delegates are also likely to get sneak peeks at Shrek 2; Van Helsing; I, Robot and Dodgeball. And one more special treat: “We will probably give them a tour of our authoring center here on the lot,” said Columbia TriStar SVP of worldwide publicity Fritz Friedman, “and probably a little Blu-ray [high-def disc] demonstration.”

Forum members like their role as the voice of the fan. “We like to gently remind them that there are still customers who buy classic, cult and obscure films, and who are closely attentive to the quality of the presentation,” Epstein said.

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