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Studios Ensure Shoppers Get the Right Ratio

18 Jan, 2003 By: Jessica Wolf

Studios want to make it easier for consumers to walk away with the DVD aspect ratios they crave.

In the fourth quarter, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment and Universal Studios Home Video created easily identifiable, unique packaging designed to answer the question: “Is this widescreen or full-frame?”

On Columbia TriStar's special edition Spider-Man DVD release, packaging features two different screen shots of the webslinging superhero to differentiate between the widescreen and the full-frame versions of the disc. For the Men in Black II special edition DVD, widescreen shoppers choose the black packaging with white letters, while full-frame viewers get the DVD with the white background and black lettering. For the release of the Back to the Future Trilogy, Universal used different colored on-pack stickers to differentiate between the two different aspect ratios.

“Full-frame still has quite a bit of appeal, even though at first, the early adopters, the people who really embraced DVD, wanted widescreen,” said Evan Fong, director of publicity for Universal. “I think everybody now knows the difference, and they know what it is they want. Now it's about just making it very clear on the packaging which one it is.”

Tracey Garvin, VP of marketing for Columbia TriStar, agreed and said the two different Men in Black II box art designs were meant to be stocked side-by-side to draw shoppers' attention to the version they want. Putting both versions in one package or on one disc is one way to satisfy every consumer, but extras often don't allow it, she said.

“We had so much content going to both of those releases that to fit both the full-frame and the widescreen on the disc and all the special features was impossible, so we had to have two separate SKUs,” she said. “One thing we learned with other titles in the past, when you do that and simply put the [widescreen or full-frame] banner on the top, it is easy for the customer to get confused.”

Early feedback from retailers regarding the two different box designs was positive, Garvin said.

Ron Epstein, founder of the Home Theater Forum, said if it comes down to sacrificing extra content, especially for high-profile releases like Spider-Man or Men in Black II, to make the film available in both aspect ratios on the disc, then the best option is for two separate SKUs. If the packaging is unique to each, all the better for the shopper. But DVD purists like Epstein are concerned that suppliers send the wrong message about widescreen.

Epstein said members of the Home Theater Forum were fired up when a studio slapped stickers that read “no black bars” on full-frame discs, because he said it gave a negative connotation to widescreen.

“I don't think DVD would be a doomed format if the studios forced the letterbox,” Epstein said. “I think sales would still be as strong as they are today, and I think that we would have a public that would be more appreciative of films presented in proper aspect ratio.”

With DVD hardware growing every day, and more and more high-definition, widescreen TV sets flooding the market, widescreen could become the aspect ratio of choice, Garvin and Epstein agreed.

Right now, however, the suppliers' job is to make both available, Garvin said.

Columbia TriStar will likely use analysis from fourth-quarter 2002 to decide whether to employ the same strategy on future releases on a title-by-title basis, Garvin said.

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