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September 30, 2008

Two Retailers That Weathered Change

In our latest issue, we recognize significant anniversaries for two important retailers in the video industry, Best Buy and Hastings Entertainment.


Best Buy was an important player in the rise of video sellthrough and DVD. Now on the 25th anniversary of its name change and expansion into video from its Sound of Music origin, Best Buy is helping to transition the industry to Blu-ray Disc through both hardware and software initiatives.


Hastings Entertainment, which has embraced an a la carte entertainment concept now being championed by the likes of Blockbuster Inc., has weathered the difficulties of the music and video industries for decades, outlasting such venerable institutions as Tower Records and Video.


Much has been made of new digital players, such as iTunes and Netflix, but Best Buy and Hastings deserve a round of applause for riding the many waves of change in a business that seems to reshuffle the deck every few years.


When I first joined what was then Video Store Magazine in the early 1990s, the industry was primarily a rental business of VHS videocassettes (I don’t quite date back to Betamax, but I do vaguely remember it). By the late 1990s, direct deals and complex copy-depth models dominated the rental business, flooding shelves with copies of the hits.


But a new format, DVD, appeared on the horizon to shake up the business once more. The little disc turned out to be a video collector’s dream, but it also offered a low price for rental dealers that made copy-depth a snap. It also opened up a whole new business for used discs. Suddenly, by-mail concepts such as Netflix took off, as did rental kiosks. Those concepts would not have been viable with clunky VHS cassettes.


And now we are transitioning to yet another format in Blu-ray Disc, which both Best Buy and Hastings are embracing, as they have embraced and adapted to the other changes in the business.


It’s not easy to keep abreast of the video wave, and retailers such as Best Buy (on its 25th) and Hastings (on its 40th) deserve kudos for their savvy business practices.

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September 23, 2008

EAA’s Wine & Wisdom Brings Together the Industry

For such a sobering cause, the people running the Entertainment AIDS Alliance sure know how to make fundraising a festive affair.

The annual Wine & Wisdom and Visionary Honors events are two of my favorite of the year, where the industry shows it has heart (EAA has raised roughly $4 million for various AIDS foundations) and offers one-of-a-kind networking opportunities.

The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills was host to this year’s Visionary event, where Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment and Target were honored for their support of the organization. WDSHE North American GM Lori MacPherson and Target’s Darrell Tucker, VP of merchandise, entertainment group, accepted the honors.

Last year, at my first Visionary dinner, I knew few in this industry, and when introduced, I didn’t really have a first name. It was usually “Oh, you’re Ralph Tribbey’s kid.” There are two replies to this: if you’re on good terms with him, “Yes, I am.” If not, “No, we disowned each other years ago.”

This year, it’s like the closing minutes of that old children’s series “Romper Room,” though instead of a magic mirror, I’ve got my camera: I can see Leslie McClure and Matt Lasorsa. There’s Steve Nickerson and Sandy Friedman. Gaby Vizcaino and Maria LaMagra. Tom Chen and a newlywed Fritz Friedman. Rich Marty and I debate the holiday SRPs for Blu-ray Disc players. Brenda Ciccone and I talk about marketing for Kung Fu Panda. Paula Tait reminds me we need to do dinner. In addition to mingling with familiar people, I also get to meet those I only know by name or email.

Networking over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres is the highlight of my event, but the auctions are a close second. Last year Steve Feldstein outbid me on the one thing I bid on. I’m determined to not let this happen again. I get into a minor bidding war with EAA Secretary Vicki Greenleaf over two tickets to Santana, a really neat trick on her part, considering she’s at home with the flu.

My name’s called for winning two auctions; everyone starts to suspect a fix might be in when it comes time for the evening’s raffle. My father (or that old guy with the same last name, depending on who’s reading) wins a DreamWorks gift basket. The very next draw comes up with my lucky number, for a Panasonic Blu-ray player. My magazine coworkers and the EAA crew look at me with disbelief. I have a tough time winning coin flips, much less two auctions and a raffle in one night.

Memo to the EAA: You really didn’t have to bribe Ralph and I … we would have written nice things about you anyway.


 

Editor in chief Stephanie Prange and senior reporter Chris Tribbey at EAA's Wine & Wisdom.

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September 23, 2008

Beyond the Glass Ceiling

In our current issue, Home Media Magazine honors the women of home entertainment, a smart and savvy group of executives who are leading our industry at a time when we are at a critical crossroads.

DVD, the format that led our industry to unprecedented growth over the past 11 years, is now mature, and sales have leveled. Blu-ray Disc, the format that will likely allow packaged media to survive, and even thrive, in an increasingly digital world, isn’t “there” yet. Sales are climbing impressively, but the format is still a good year or two away from mainstream adoption.

As our industry buckles down to weather the transition, we find a significant percentage of top industry executives are women. We decided to profile some of them in this issue, and as I edited senior reporter Chris Tribbey’s nearly 6,000-word report on the women of home entertainment, I found some similarities among the honorees. Specifically, they are well-educated, well-rounded and in positions of increasing importance, both at their own company and within our industry. While there is just one worldwide president of a major studio’s home entertainment division — Kelley Avery of Paramount — there are more than a half-dozen other business and marketing leaders who essentially call the shots at their respective studios, from developing and implementing an overall Blu-ray Disc strategy and overseeing every stage in the product distribution cycle to acquisitions, packaging, sales and marketing, and fulfillment.

The import of women isn’t limited to the studio system. Amy Jo Smith, executive director of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, is now taking the lead in promoting awareness of Blu-ray Disc to the world at large. Jill Hamburger at Best Buy is a trendsetting retail executive whose empire happens to be one of the country’s biggest sellers of DVD software. And there are several other women who run, or have founded, independent DVD suppliers — entrepreneurial mavens who have been taking pot shots at the proverbial glass ceiling for years.

So congratulations to all the women of home entertainment. And lest I forget, let me also give kudos to the women of Home Media Magazine: Stephanie Prange, Angelique Flores, Kyra Kudick, Renee Rosado, Julie Savant, Joni Wu, Kristina Kronenberg, Kaitlyn DeWaard, Jennifer Evans, Brady Gallardo and Jennifer Guerena. Hey, that’s more than half the staff …
 

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September 22, 2008

TV DVD Is the Way for Me

As various digital outlets such as iTunes tout watching an episode online to catch up on a TV series, I am finding that watching a TV show one episode at a time is most inefficient and annoying.


I am a power watcher, a TV DVD binger, if you will.


I will watch an entire season in a weekend, often viewing it over again with commentary.


I hate cliffhangers, and thus I watch series with ongoing plots, such as “Lost” and more recently “Mad Men,” in seasons, rather than by episode.


I don’t need to be up-to-date on the latest happenings in “Mad Men.” In fact it frustrates me to watch it in episode form at all. I’d rather wait until the season ends and watch it in one long session.


I have no idea what happened on the last season of “Lost.” I’m waiting for the TV DVD season set to catch up.
I know others like to record episodes on their DVRs, but for me that still doesn’t match the convenience of watching the entire season at once with commentary on TV DVD.


In fact — and this will no doubt irritate TV executives — if I catch a TV episode of a series I like on cable or broadcast TV, I’m apt to turn it off and wait for the TV DVD set. I see these ongoing plots as a very long feature, best watched in one, almost continuous, sitting.


While many have commented on the anywhere, anytime nature of short-video Internet viewing, I also must extol the virtues of full-season viewing, which often can’t be had on the Internet or DVR in as convenient a form as on DVD.


Episodic TV grew out of a need in the broadcast business to keep viewers over time and to sell advertising. It didn’t grow out of viewers’ entertainment consumption preferences. Some of our best novels first appeared in episodic form, but we don’t read them that way today.


While Web outlets such as iTunes may be breaking viewers’ slavery to the clock, they still offer shows in episodic snippets without commentary and other extras that allow a viewer to savor a series. TV DVD is the ideal medium for this purpose, and the most-definitive statement on a TV show. Who says everyone must watch a TV show in half-hour or hour increments? I don’t.

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September 22, 2008

Few Quibbles With This Year’s Emmys

Usually I find myself watching awards shows and wondering exactly how voters could honestly come to the collective decisions they often do (the clean sweep of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for the 2003 Oscars comes to mind). Sometimes awards are granted for career achievement. Other times they are granted as a result of old-fashioned politicking.

Whether or not these awards carry any credibility beyond serving as a Hollywood marketing tool is open to debate. But it’s not uncommon to see a slate of awards handed out that doesn’t seem to make sense based on the merits of the nominees.

So I kind of found myself looking over the Emmy announcements as they came in and finding myself mostly in agreement with them, especially in the major awards.

“John Adams” won almost everything for which it was nominated in the miniseries category, taking 13 statuettes to set an Emmy record. This is a fantastic miniseries based on David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of America’s second president. It’s hands down the top nominee in the miniseries category, and the acting awards for Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson are well deserved. If you haven’t had a chance to pick up the three-DVD set from HBO Video, you really should check it out, especially in this election year. It’s an excellent depiction of the founding of the United States and really serves as a reminder of the ideals on which this country was founded.

From early American history to recent events, HBO’s Recount, a great fictionalized recap of the 2000 election dispute in Florida, won best TV movie, and features some great performances as well.

Considering HBO’s great successes in the TV movie and miniseries categories over the years, it’s really no surprise to see it practically sweep the categories this year.

I’m also glad to see “30 Rock” take another award for best comedy series. The landscape of half-hour television comedy has changed a lot in the past decade, with some of the better shows using the single-camera format made popular by “Sex and the City” (of the five comedy nominees this year, only one, “Two and a Half Men,” could be considered a traditional sitcom). “30 Rock” doesn’t get the ratings it probably should, but it’s really a funny show and one of the few half-hour comedies currently on the air I make it a point to catch each week. The cast is excellent, and I was happy to see Alec Baldwin win for his role on the show.

Seeing Jean Smart win for best supporting actress in a comedy series was a pleasant surprise. Some pundits are calling this an upset, but quite frankly the field was weak, and she’s excellent in her role as Christina Applegate’s mother on “Samantha Who?” In retrospect, this one’s a no-brainer.

Don’t think that Emmy is completely off the hook with me, however. As far as I’m concerned, Hugh Laurie should have picked up his fourth Emmy for his transcendent role on “House.” So far, he has none (and inexplicably wasn’t even nominated in the show’s second year, arguably his best).

Jeremy Piven is always great on “Entourage,” so I won’t begrudge him his Emmy. But it’s a safe pick. Kevin Dillon’s Johnny Drama has been increasingly driving the show over the past season. Go ahead and pick up the recently released fourth-season DVD set and see for yourself.

And the idea that “Battlestar Galactica” continues to be shut out of the major categories is unfathomable to me. It’s not that surprising, considering the television and film academies’ long-standing and well-known biases against sci-fi. Still, “Galactica” managed to score writing nominations the past few years (though it didn’t win), which is probably the most the television academy is willing to concede for this outstanding series. You can check it out on DVD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment (I’m sure the Blu-ray versions will be along soon).

As for some of those acceptance speeches from the other night, well, that’s another story …

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September 16, 2008

Sex, Germs and Antarctica

Some independent films recently announced on DVD aim to satiate tastes for adventure and controversy.

Prebooking today and streeting Oct. 21 is First Run Features’ Sex & Justice, at $24.95. The film covers Clarence Thomas’ 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings and the allegations made by Anita Hill of sexual harassment from Thomas. Feminist writer Gloria Steinem narrates the film.

The controversy made an indelible impact on ’80s children like myself. Surely you remember your parents and teachers shrugging off questions about the whole thing, probably in the same way children of the ’90s might have asked their elders during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, “what’s a ‘deponent’?” 

Also recently announced is What We Do is Secret, the biopic of legendary L.A. punks The Germs. The film is coming to DVD Nov. 4 (prebook Oct. 7), from Peace Arch Entertainment, at $29.99.

I didn’t get a chance this summer to see Shane West playing lead singer Darby Crash in theaters — or on stage with the real-life reformed Germs — but the whole thing is so weird and brilliant, at least from a marketing perspective: Reform a band, sans its deceased lead singer, with a young, pretty-boy actor in his place to generate buzz for the film about the band. I still can’t picture West singing “Lexicon Devil,” even though I’ve heard it on MySpace, and reviews were mixed, but I’m intrigued.


Last but certainly not least, Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World is coming from Image Entertainment Nov. 18 (prebook Oct. 21). End of the World, while not as powerful as was his moving Grizzly Man, is an entertaining look into the adventurous and largely eccentric folks who make their home and livelihood in Antarctica, with stunning shots of penguins, ice and all that good stuff that makes Antarctica so alluring.


The two-DVD set ($27.98) and Blu-ray Disc ($35.98) have an audio commentary with producer Henry Kaiser, cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger and the witty, wily Herzog, who narrates the film as well. The set also has an interview with Jonathan Demme of Herzog, and the featurettes “Under the Ice, Over the Ice”; “Dive Locker Interview: Werner Herzog Talks with Rob Robbins and Henry Kaiser”; “South Pole Exorcism” and “Seals and Men.”


 

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By: Billy Gil

September 12, 2008

Home Media Magazine’s splashy new Web site!

Welcome to Home Media Magazine’s splashy new Web site! Yeah, I know the old one wasn’t bad, but this new one is way better. If nothing else, it let’s me talk to you all the time now courtesy of our hot new blogging software!

I’ll admit, I’m used to the old soapbox—a traditional column in which I weigh in on one or more Heavy Issue. Blogging is more a stream-of-consciousness deal, where I spout whatever’s on my mind. So here goes…

Lipstick on a pig. How many times have we heard that in the last few days—and when is one of our reviewers going to use this if a really terrible movie gets a wealth of great special features? Hey, Fritz, any plans for a deluxe collector’s edition of Gigli?...

We’re counting down the weeks until the fourth quarter. Our suspicions that everyone’s going to rally and really push Blu-ray Disc this fourth quarter appear to be coming true. Not only are we seeing an unprecedented number of hot new releases, both recent theatricals and catalog, but the studios are all of a sudden really starting to advertise their Blu-ray slates. Wait until you see what we have coming in the next few issues of the magazine!

Speaking of Blu-ray, I hope you all caught the significance of what happened on the charts last week. A special edition of “Transformers,” a year-old movie, debuted at No. 3 on the national sales chart primarily because of its strong Blu-ray Disc showing. Blu-ray Disc accounted for two-thirds of total sales, according to an analysis of Nielsen VideoScan First Alert numbers. “Transformers” had initially been released by Paramount/DreamWorks last year in DVD and HD DVD only, but still, the Blu-ray showing is remarkable. We’re hearing first-week Blu-ray Disc sales of nearly 70,000 units—a remarkable figure by any measure.

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January 20, 2008

Top 5 Star Wars Parodies

Fox's “Family Guy” and Warner's “Robot Chicken” both made waves in 2007 with popular “Star Wars” episodes (the Robot Chicken: Star Wars DVD hits May 20 from Warner Home Video at $14.97). Even “The Simpsons” and “South Park” have jumped on board from time to time. But here are a few of the all-time classic movies and short films that poke fun at the holy trilogy, all available on DVD.

  • 1. Hardware Wars (MWP) 1977. The original parody, filmed with household objects as ships, is the epitome of low budget, but still great.
  • 2. George Lucas in Love (MediaTrip) 1999. This hilarious short, based on Shakespeare in Love, imagines Lucas finding inspiration for “Star Wars” at USC.
  • 3. Spaceballs (MGM) 1987. Mel Brooks' space epic is probably the best-known parody. It's hammy and obvious at times but filled with great visual gags.
  • 4. R2-D2: Beneath the Dome (Fox) 2001. While making Episode II, Lucasfilm commissioned this “True Hollywood Story”-style special about cinema's favorite droid.
  • 5. Thumb Wars: The Phantom Cuticle (Image) 1999. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls director Steve Oedekerk proved he's all thumbs with the first in his “Thumbation” series of parodies.

 

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May 07, 2006

America's Space Pioneers

To me, landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth was one of the greatest achievements not only of the 20th century, but of all time.

A nearly complete picture of America's Cold War race to the moon against the Soviet Union is available in a virtual boxed set of two films and a cable miniseries.

First up is The Right Stuff (available in a two-disc special edition from Warner Home Video), a terrific adaptation of Tom Wolfe's novel about test pilots and how being chosen as an astronaut doesn't necessarily make a pilot any better than one who wasn't.

Up next is Apollo 13 (available in a two-disc anniversary edition from Universal Studios Home Entertainment), eminently quotable and easily one of my favorite films, chronicling the star-crossed 1970 lunar mission, and how hundreds of mission controllers on Earth worked to save the three-man crew after an explosion crippled the ship. The film is a testament to the spirit of adventure and the risks involved in exploring new places.

Tom Hanks' experience starring in Apollo 13 inspired him to produce the 12-part HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon” (HBO Video), which looks at the whole of the lunar program. The early days are touched on, but the focus is on the 24 men who flew to the moon and all those who had a hand in getting them there. Each of the Apollo missions is given the spotlight in an episode — from the tragedy and investigation of the Apollo 1 fire, to the historic 1969 Apollo 11 landing, to the good ol' boys of Apollo 12 and the final landing of Apollo 17.

These films leave us to reflect why today, when it would be relatively easy to return to the moon, most people don't seem to care about doing it.

 

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May 11, 2010

Wolfe Gets 4 New Films; TLA Reprices Gay Titles

With Gay and Lesbian Pride Month coming up in June, two of the big players in gay and lesbian home video, TLA Releasing and Wolfe Video, have made separate announcements.

Wolfe has acquired the distribution rights for Sundance pick 8: The Mormon Proposition, Elena Undone, My Normal and Slamdance hit The Four-Faced Liar. 8 is directed by Emmy Award-winning journalist Reed Cowan and is an indictment of the Mormon Church’s involvement in passing California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as only between men and women in the state; the film comes to DVD in July. Elena Undone, from director Nicole Conn (Claire of the Moon) tells the story of a pastor’s wife and a troubled female writer who are drawn to one another, and the film will screen at June’s San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. My Normal tells of lesbian dominatrix who longs to become a filmmaker, and the film comes to DVD in late 2010. The Four-Faced Liar was written by, stars and is co-produced by Marja Lewis Ryan; the film will hit U.S. and Canadian festivals throughout the year before coming to DVD.

Meanwhile, TLA Releasing is repricing some of its gay-themed DVDs, such as Another Gay Sequel, A Four Letter Word (DVDs $19.99 each), Boy Culture, Clandestinos, Boystown, Tan Lines, Schoolboy Crush (DVDs $14.99 each), Bear Cub, Harry and Max, Naked Fame and Beautiful Boxer (DVD $9.99 each).

Additionally, prebook is today for Kino International’s Blu-ray release of Wong Kar-Wai’s gay-themed classic, Happy Together, starring Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung; the $29.95 Blu-ray streets June 8. And Water Bearer Films today announced two new titles streeting July 20 (prebook June 22) on DVD at $19.95: Crush, Michael J. Saul’s anthology of four gay love stories, and Altitude Failing, a futuristic tale in which a man inadvertently recruits his lover into a covert army suicide mission (whoa).

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By: Billy Gil