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Indie Suppliers Flummoxed by Paramount Move

23 Sep, 2007 By: Chris Tribbey

The high-def decision seemed so easy for Topics Entertainment.

Blu-ray Disc had more studio support, sales data showed a 2-to-1 advantage over HD DVD, and the independent was convinced Blu-ray would be the best format for its scenic Over America and Over California titles.

But then Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation SKG dropped their support of Blu-ray, going exclusively with HD DVD.

“We had a meeting set with Sony DADC the day after the Paramount news was released to the general public,” said Lindsay Collins, DVD product manager for Topics Entertainment. “Sony was coming by to finalize the agreement with us, [but] due to the Paramount news we never saw the agreement, as we backed out right away.”

Topics wanted to see if the Paramount decision would affect Blu-ray's lead, Collins said, adding she saw some retailers dedicate more space to HD DVD.

Despite the Paramount decision, Blu-ray has seen its sales lead over HD DVD narrow only slightly this past month, and after holding off for a few weeks, Collins said, “I'm 99% sure we're going to go with Blu-ray.”

Still, the indie is on the fence.

“Our No. 1 concern is the cost to author onto either format,” Collins said. “It's very risky to us because if we put up the money to do this and the other format wins, then we basically just blew a good amount of money.”

Paramount's move reminded independents such as Topics that this is still very much a studio war, and gave them less incentive to pick a side.

“All the more reason for us to see where the dust settles,” said Ian Stimler, director of home media sales and marketing for Zeitgeist Films.

“The Paramount/DreamWorks' decision doesn't affect our long-term plans too much,” he said. “It does seem like Blu-ray has all the momentum; however, [the Paramount/DreamWorks decision] may pull everything back to the middle.”

Larry Cohen, principal of Westlake Entertainment said: “The longer the format wars continue, the harder it is for consumers to know which way to go. It's unfortunate that one clear-cut standard has not yet materialized.”

Westlake's first high-def release will be Hoop Realities in the second quarter of 2008, Cohen said. “We are planning to release in HD DVD and not Blu-ray, but as a smaller independent label, we'll see how the wind blows.”

One independent, Questar, that was set on its first Blu-ray release in the fourth quarter has backed out due to “slower than anticipated adoption rate for the high-def formats,” according to a Questar spokesman. Rudy Maxa travel and PBS nature titles planned for Blu-ray from Questar have been postponed.

Bruce Frigeri, president of Lifesize Entertainment, said being smaller may mean more risk in choosing a side, but it also means more freedom to change your mind.

“Independents have the option of releasing one film in one format. Say we know alternative Asian fans are disproportionately linked to Blu-ray, so we release Time [by Kim Ki Duk] in that format, and then another film comes along that makes sense [for HD DVD], and we can just as easily flip,” he said, saying Lifesize did look at Time for a high-def release, but decided against it.

“I like having that freedom … [but] right now, I just sit and watch and wonder how long this will go on.”

Mitch Perliss, EVP of Razor Digital Entertainment, said his company is committed to the Blu-ray format and will follow through on a Nov. 13 street date for a handful of Imax titles. He said his hope is that retailers “won't just look at the supplier, but at the quality of the content, to allow consumers a wide range of options to get them to commit to a format.”

Allumination Filmworks CEO Cheryl Freeman said her company will make a decision “based on consumer and retailer demand.”

“We do believe that [the Paramount] decision will prolong the format war,” she said.

Larry Brahms, president of MTI Home Video, had a more optimistic outlook of the Paramount decision.

“I'm hoping that their decision will help bring this controversy to a swifter conclusion,” he said. “Very little will affect us directly other than a definitive winner of the day.

“[Until then], we are in a wait and see mode here.”

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