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PSP a Leg Up in Handheld Movies

14 Apr, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) may not have been the instant sellout many analysts had expected. But while the gaming jury is still out, the PSP appears to be well on its way toward becoming the dominant movie-watching medium in the burgeoning “handheld” market.

A growing number of studios are supporting the PSP with movies and other programming released on the device's proprietary Universal Media Disc (UMD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, not surprisingly the format's biggest cheerleader, has a steady supply of titles in the pipeline, including Hitch, coming out the same day (June 14) as the DVD.

“We think that PSP is a multimedia entertainment device,” said Alison Biggers, VP of worldwide marketing for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “We feel strongly that movies are going to be very successful on this format.”At launch, Sony's PSP was bundled with a movie, Spider-Man 2.

Other studios that are releasing titles on UMD include Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl will be in stores April 19) and Lions Gate Home Entertainment, with Warner Home Video reportedly on the verge of joining up, as well.

Several independents, too, are taking a long, hard look at the new medium, including Image Entertainment and Koch Entertainment.

“We're looking very hard at software for PSP, especially in relation to the genres tied to the most likely consumers to early adopt — the game players,” said Dan Gurlitz, VP of Koch Vision. “Plans are being assembled now, as the format will likely move into growth mode somewhat rapidly.”

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. has all but given up on its Mini DVD, launched several months ago in hopes of snagging a share of the lucrative handheld market, popular with kids and the young-male demographic.

No one at Warner is talking on the record, but a high-level source confirms the Mini DVD “is not catching on” the way the company had hoped. Still, he said, “we haven't given up completely.” A test rollout is in the works with Target Stores, after a test with Best Buy failed to attract much business.

“Best Buy didn't like it that much,” the Warner source said. “They weren't that successful.”

Indeed, one employee at a Best Buy store in Georgia sent Home Media Retailing an e-mail March 16, stating, “We were a test store for the Mini DVD format. Last week, we pulled out our CyberHome Mini DVD hardware. This week, we pulled out all of our Mini DVD software.”

The three-inch Mini DVD plays on regular DVD players as well as a $120 dedicated Mini DVD player from CyberHome, equipped with a 2.5-inch LCD screen.

Last January, it was reported that several studios besides Warner Home Video would support the format, including Paramount Home Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Universal Studios Home Entertainment. But a check this week of Amazon.com's Mini DVD page shows only titles from Warner, chiefly family films like Kangaroo Jack and Free Willy and lots of cartoons.

“We're still watching it, but its not quite ready,” said the president of one major studio's home entertainment division, who asked his name not be used. “The hardware has to have much more integrity, and the initial [software] launch got kind of screwed up.” Despite earlier plans to release titles on Mini DVD, the executive said, he's not putting anything out, “and we have no plans to do so right now.”

This doesn't mean PSP gets free reign. Two other products already have built established bases in the hand-held arena, although both are targeted at kids.

Hasbro introduced its Video Now player “for tweens” in 2003 and subsequently bowed Video Now Jr. for kids between the ages of 3 and 6. Players list for $79.99 but routinely sell for around $50 at big chains from Wal-Mart to Amazon.com. Software — “PVDs” — sell for $9.99 and include licensed titles such as “Dora the Explorer,” “Blue's Clues” and “Oswald,” all from Nick Jr.; “The Wiggles,” “Bob the Builder” and “Barney” from HIT Entertainment; and “Sesame Street.”

Mattel entered the fray over the 2004 holidays with its Juice Box, a $69.99 portable player with a backlit 3-inch screen aimed at 9- to 12-year-olds. Unlike PSP and Video Now, both of which play tiny discs, the Juice Box plays a proprietary media card with room for nearly three hours of content. Software support comes from BMG Music, the Cartoon Network, the Discovery Channel and WWE.

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