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Indie Suppliers Support HD Under the Radar

8 Jul, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

While much of the fireworks have happened between the major studios on the high-definition software front, independent suppliers have been working under the radar to support the next generation of discs.

Some indie suppliers already have high-def strategies in place, which they hope will flesh out the still-skimpy lineup of studio offerings for early adopters.

BCI Entertainment will have 20 HD DVD titles on shelves by the end of the year, said Cliff MacMillan, director of acquisitions.

The company is starting with the Aug 26 release of That's the Way of the World, a “lost” 1975 film starring Harvey Keitel and musical group Earth, Wind and Fire. BCI spent $30,000 sprucing up the original master, he said. Sept. 12, BCI releases on HD DVD Galaxina, starring cult favorite Dorothy Stratten in one of her last roles, and the Sonny Chiba action flick Golgo 13.

“We see it as an opportunity to bring customers other kinds of titles they may never have heard of before,” MacMillan said. “There aren't a lot of titles out there right now.”

BCI is starting with HD DVD because “it's the easiest one at this point to get manufacturing time and get on board with right now,” he said. The studio's HD DVDs will list for $24.98 each.

Goldhil Entertainment was one of the first indie suppliers to announce a high-def strategy. Goldhil has prepped its artistic time-lapse photography release Chronos for both HD DVD and Blu-ray, though street dates for either are not final.

Razor Digital Entertainment begins the high-def era with Blu-ray and a selection of large-format titles that “are perfect for those early adopters to showcase their new HD system,” said EVP Mitch Perliss.

Initial Razor releases include Africa the Serengeti, Alaska: Spirit of the Wild, Amazing Journeys and National Parks Odyssey. Razor is “studying the market” before finalizing prices and street dates for its Blu-ray titles, Perliss said.

Live Nation, the home entertainment arm of Clear Channel Entertainment, will release Mötley Cr?e: Carnival of Sins and Ozzfest 10th Anniversary on HD DVD in the fourth quarter.

“At the same time, we're looking over our shoulder to see if Blu-ray ramps up quickly enough to warrant further preparedness,” said Steve Sterling, SVP of programming and production.

The lower price and earlier launch of HD DVD made it the safer bet, he said. But with Sony's release of the $599 Blu-ray-enabled PS3, Blu-ray could catch up quickly, he added.

Music clips from supplier Eagle Rock Entertainment already are in use for in-store high-def TV demos. The audio/video supplier has a deal to create demo content for Philips Electronics HDTV set promotions, said Mike Carden, Eagle Rock's EVP and president of North American operations.

Eagle Rock has 45 masters ready to be re-authored to either Blu-ray or HD DVD. The company has two titles in the works for Blu-ray, concerts from Pat Metheny and The Black Crowes.

“I don't want to say I'm leaning anywhere,” Carden said. “I'm waiting for the market to lean one way or another.”

Longtime performance and music provider Kultur Entertainment has 12 titles earmarked for eventual release on a high-def format, said Dennis Hedlund, president and founder of Kultur International Films.

“We are going to test the waters this fall and holiday season,” he said.MTI Home Video's sexy July 11 release, Pirates, was shot in high-definition, and the supplier plans to release it on one of the two formats in the fourth quarter.

Across the board, though, rings disappointment at the dual-format launch.

“I strongly believe that the HD player market will result in a re-energizing of the [home entertainment] marketplace, which will actually top the adoption and growth rates of DVD,” Live Nation's Sterling said. “Unfortunately, the ‘hardware wars' may likely delay this for 18 to 24 months.”

Two formats could really sting if a war goes on too long, indie suppliers said.

“Like everybody else, we would prefer to have one format because, sure, it would be more cost effective,” BCI's Henderson said.

Still, indie and special-interest purveyors may gain an advantage by getting out ahead of high-def, they said. Showing an ability to deliver HD product will engender good will with consumers and retailers, “which will need to get beyond movie titles in the HD player world,” Sterling said.

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