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Indies Take Issue With No-Screener Policy

29 Dec, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment's decision to stop sending DVD screeners to retailers and instead stream screeners on a Web site isn't a big surprise, but it still is frustrating, indie dealers said.

Last summer, Warner Home Video halted screeners for its product, and retailers report that screeners from Universal Studios Home Entertainment have been in short supply for some time.

Fox, as Warner did last year, cited rampant piracy issues as the reason for the screener kibosh.

In a letter dated Dec. 13, Fox notified retailers it would cease production of advance screeners because “every year, movie pirates seek out copies of screeners to upload to the Internet and create pirate discs sold around the world, causing great harm to our industry.”

The letter said the studio has plans to launch a streaming Web site in the next 30 days as a viewing alternative for retailers only, and promised more details would be forthcoming.

What's troubling is the piracy rationale behind the move, some retailers said.

Some of the biggest piracy infractions of the past year — in particular Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith and Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story — came from internal production leaks, not screeners, noted Todd Zaganiacz, president of the National Entertainment Buying Group.

“The whole thing with this piracy issue is that it's almost always on the Web before a screener is even sent out to a retailer,” he said.

Adrian Hickman, longtime retailer with Philadelphia-based TLA Video and Independent Dealers of Entertainment Association (iDEA), wrote to Home Media Retailing in response to Fox's announcement and agreed.

“I am a staunch antipiracy advocate and have had numerous ‘encounters' with pirates and am not bashful when I see them,” he said. “However, I grow really weary, and frankly, damn insulted when the studios disguise their lack of support for video retailers under the guise of ‘We are stopping screeners to stop piracy.’

Piracy is a huge issue, one everyone worries about, Zaganiacz agreed, but advance screeners are invaluable when it comes to making buying decisions for smaller or DTV films.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment also has a dearth of screeners, and often retailers are frustrated in trying to make decisions for a wealth of secondary titles, with little or no information, artwork or anything to go by, Zaganiacz said.

A retailer may upsize or downsize an order on a release after watching the movie, but most of the time, the swing is on the upside, he said.

A streaming Web site could be a great alternative for some retailers, Zaganiacz said. But others won't interact with the content via a computer, he said, which will definitely affect their buying strategies.

“I will at least tip the hat to Fox for providing an alternative in the Internet option,” Hickman said.

Another option retailers may like, Hickman pointed out, would be for studios to reimburse buyers for tickets to theatrical viewings.

The anti-screener mentality feels directed at the indie, Zaganiacz said. It's hard to imagine that a Blockbuster, Wal-Mart or Best Buy buyer won't somehow manage to get a screener, even though they supposedly aren't being created anymore, he said.

It's also clear that all studios are looking at ways to cut costs. Retailers have seen studios downsizing sales teams and cutting back on co-op ad dollars and merchandising materials offerings, Hickman noted.

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