Insights from home entertainment industry experts. Home Media blogs give you the inside scoop on entertainment news, DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, and the happenings at key studios and entertainment retailers. “TK's Take” analyzes and comments on home entertainment news and trends, “Agent DVD Insider” talks fanboy entertainment, “IndieFile” delivers independent film news, “Steph Sums It Up” offers pithy opinions on the state of the industry, and “Mike’s Picks” offers bite-sized recommendations of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Wes Craven, who just passed, has left a legacy in my family beyond just the enjoyment we had watching his horror films. My daughter Sydney is named after a character in the “Scream” franchise, Sydney Prescott. I remember seeing one of the “Scream” films while pregnant and thinking, “Sydney. That’s a good name!”
It seems destined perhaps that my daughter would have the same darkly humorous take on life that infused many of Craven’s films. She’s a brooding blonde, a contrast that would likely make a great character in a Craven film, her sunny appearance belying a contemplative and serious personality underneath.
Craven always seemed to be on the inside and on the outside of his movies at the same time. While presenting his characters, he was also an omniscient eye on the proceedings — often a satirical and humorous eye.
This duality is what made his type of horror so compelling. Unlike the gore-filled horror that followed, exploiting every cringe-inducing torture imaginable, or the reality-spawned horror such as The Blair Witch Project or the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, Craven’s films, from Scream to A Nightmare on Elm Street to the original The Hills Have Eyes, had a point of view. It was somewhat matched by Joss Whedon in his screenplay for Cabin in the Woods (co-written with director Drew Goddard), which also touched on the satirical aspect of horror. However, Craven’s viewpoint was unique. It will be missed.
It lives on, perhaps in my daughter Sydney, who projects the same kind of duality that Craven always exhibited — light-hearted humor with a consciousness of the dark side of life. Or in those who will emulate his and Joss Whedon’s take on horror. The fans will remember Wes Craven. Craven’s horror allowed the audience both to experience scares and to evaluate them from afar (via humor or satire). In between was a unique truth, that life is both scary and humorous.
By: Stephanie Prange
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (Blu-ray)
Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Comedy, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Mary Steenburgen, Jose Ferrer.
1982. By a presumed factor of incalculable thousands, the supporting cast of crickets, cicadas and other chirpers vastly outnumber and do their best to outshine the six human principals in Woody Allen’s pastoral light comedy that launched him on a six-picture streak of relatively mirthful achievements.
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Available via Universal Vault Series
Universal, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Ray Milland, Paulette Goddard, Cecil Kellaway, Patric Knowles.
1946. Generally regarded as the most successful vehicle that Paulette Goddard had to carry on her shoulders without help from Cecil B. DeMille or Chaplin, this lavish historical London lark might be classified as a bodice-ripper if any bodices actually got ripped.
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This week, we present our eighth annual Women in Home Entertainment section, in which we recognize female leaders in the industry. The list includes executives from the major studios and other content owners, as well as digital and disc retailers. This year, we also put together some commentary from the women in the section, allowing them to offer insight into the challenges and opportunities they face as the business moves into the digital realm.
The top major studio female executives also offer insight into their entertainment preferences and career knowledge. They give pieces of advice they received and would offer to others. DreamWorks Animation’s Kelley Avery said “just have fun with it,” which is sage advice in a very serious world. Fox’s Mary Daily stressed honesty and curiosity. And Sony’s Lexine Wong said it’s “OK to fail” but to not repeat the mistake and to perform at a level above.
Our industry faced several shocks in the past month, including what seemed a seismic shift in media power after Disney noted ESPN’s loss in subscribers. Industry pundits began to wonder if over-the-top services would break up the cable bundle in such a way that it resulted in the big media companies losing out. CNBC’s Jim Cramer called Netflix a “media killer.” The Dish CEO said Netflix was “the world’s largest content aggregator,” in a nod to the Wall Street darling’s growing power. Several stock market gyrations later, that narrative had lost a little steam, but the digital OTT business had caught everyone’s attention.
The Women in Home Entertainment are on the front lines of these changes in home entertainment distribution, and we salute their work in navigating new business models.
Persevering, they see both opportunities and challenges in the enormous changes in our industry.
By: Stephanie Prange
I hate buzz words and phrases such as “transformational moment” and “paradigm shift,” and yet I really hope everyone reading this recognizes the significance of the announcement by the Secure Content Storage Association (SCSA) that it has made available specs for “Vidity,” an enabling technology allowing consumers to move their 4K Ultra HD content easily around to virtually all their devices.
To use one of those phrases, this could be a real “game changer.”
The two biggest obstacles to buying movies and other content electronically, instead of on disc, is the lack of tangibility as well as the legitimate concern that your purchased content probably won’t play on all your devices.
Vidity smacks those two worries right out of the proverbial ballpark.
Much like a physical “combo pack,” you get everything with one single purchase — files for every device known to man, from your home theater system to your mobile phone.
And, again like a physical disc, you maintain possession of said files. They live with you, not on some far-off cloud, and you’re pretty much free to do with them what you want — move them around, take them with you to a friend’s house, transfer them to a new tablet when little Hunter cracks the glass and spills grape juice on your old one.
Vidity is also mercifully free of the other encumbering trappings so prevalent in the digital space, such as Internet access and the need to establish, and sign on to, myriad online accounts whenever you want to watch a movie.
I can’t stress how important this is to our industry, our business, our livelihood. If home entertainment is to survive, we need to establish a bulwark against subscription streaming with some sort of transactional business, which has always been the only real way for the home entertainment divisions of the studios to make money.
Under any sort of subscription business, content has no real value — which is a slap in the face to the creative community, and a blow to the pocketbooks of the studios. It’s merely part of a bundle, part of a package the consumer is buying for a very low price, sort of like those grab bags we all used to beg our parents to buy us when we were kids.
Netflix pioneered, and continues to dominate, the subscription streaming model. The concept behind Netflix is pure genius, playing right into the two key consumer “wants,” which is to get their entertainment as simply as possible, and as cheaply as possible.
Hollywood fed this monster, selling more and more old movies to Netflix to make their financial targets and compensate for slumping disc sales — only to find that the beast began taking a bigger and bigger bite out of Blu-ray Disc and DVD sales, to the point where consumer spending on disc purchases and subscription streaming is nearly equal.
Physical disc sales alone will never be able to reverse this trend, even if the advent of Ultra HD triggers resurgence in disc sales, as many of us believe it will.
Consumers are now in the habit of getting their movies and TV shows online, and anything we can do to turn them into buyers is welcome. Raising the comfort level, as Vidity promises to do, is certainly a step in the right direction.
And if all the studios come onboard and not only supply plenty of good, first-run content — of the kind not available on Netflix — but also aggressively market and promote this content, we might yet have a chance of saving this business.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
Best Buy's 'Walking Dead' Season 5 Cover
Another season of "The Walking Dead" on disc means more retailer exclusives for the hit show.
Best Buy offered special lenticular covers on the Blu-ray editions of all five seasons.
Target offered the Blu-ray of the fifth season in a steelbook case with exclusive bonus content, a "Walkers in the Water" featurette.
Walmart offered the season five Blu-ray and DVD with a pack-in Funko toy of Daryl.
For other titles, Target offered a $5 savings with the purchase of both the Lego Batman 3 video game with Warner's Lego DC Super Heroes: Justice League — Attack of the Legion of Doom movie.
By: John Latchem
Over-the-top video, like mortal beings, apparently is vulnerable to flesh-eating zombies.
Dish Network-owned Sling TV encountered its second high-profile streaming miscue Aug. 24 during the premiere of AMC Networks’ “Fear the Walking Dead.” The companion series to AMC outward hit “The Walking Dead” moved the premise of undead in the Southeast onto unsuspecting citizens of Los Angeles.
The premiere was a monstrous ratings hit: Generating 10 million cable viewers — a record for the pay-TV industry. While part of the show’s appeal is watching ordinary people deal with a typically short-lived interaction with zombies, Sling killed the suspense via technical glitches.
Cord-cutters (such as myself) were subjected to dark screens on multiple occasions as the subscription streaming service completely shut down during the episode.
“We're aware some of you had issues last night. Apologies if you saw an interruption. The team is on it: more details to come,” Sling tweeted.
Sling, which offers OTT access to about 20 pay-TV channels (ESPN, TNT, AMC, CNN, etc.), encountered similar issues shortly after launching in February with NCAA’s March Madness, and more recently the finale of “Pretty Little Liars.”
In an Aug. 24 email response, Sling acknowledged the issue and to its credit offered a solution.
“We sincerely apologize that you experienced difficulties last night. The good news is that this issue has been resolved and the content can be viewed on lookback as part of AMC's 3 Day Original Content Look Back feature. Simply go to the episode on your timeline and select watch,” the Sling support team said.
By: Erik Gruenwedel
Day for Night
Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Jacqueline Bisset, Francois Truffaut, Valentina Cortese, Jean-Pierre Aumont.
1973. Francois Truffaut’s more joyous than ever love song to filmmaking (but most of all to film crews) made an Oscar splash by winning 1973’s award for foreign film.
Extras: The fact that the film sparked a permanent rupture between onetime friends and colleagues Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard turns out to be a kind of subtheme of the bonus section of an irresistible Criterion release. Also included are interviews from Warner’s earlier DVD release.
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Dick Cavett’s Vietnam
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2015. A companion piece to the previously released Dick Cavett’s Watergate, this tantalizingly compelling if frustratingly limited look-back should ideally be viewed first, given all we have to come to learn about the Vietnam-Watergate direct linkage.
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Blu-ray Disc’s 10th birthday is less than a year away, and the resiliency of the disc came to mind the other day when I was reading the Futuresource Consulting report about the continued popularity, among consumers, of buying movies on disc.
In case you missed it, the survey, of 6,000 consumers in the United States, Canada, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Australia, found that more than 50% still regularly buy either Blu-ray Disc or DVD. And in the United States and the United Kingdom, the percentage of people buying discs has actually gone up from an earlier survey.
That supports the notion I’ve held that the primary reason we’re seeing such big drops in disc-sale revenues is a sharp drop in the average sales price.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not wearing blinders, by any stretch. The home entertainment industry has been disrupted by Netflix and subscription streaming, which continues to eat away at the transactional business because it plays right into the two primary drivers of consumer habits: the desire to get stuff cheap and easy. The Netflix model is focused on both, and that’s why we’re seeing continued gains in subscription streaming.
But let’s not count out the disc, not just yet. There are plenty of consumers who still prefer to buy and rent Blu-ray Discs and DVDs, maybe because they want new movies that won’t show up on Netflix for another, oh, eight or nine years; or there are bandwith problems in the area where they live; or they want a better picture and sound; or they’re simply coming down with what I call “Netflix fatigue,” a disenchantment with the tired catalog retreads that make up the bulk of Netflix’s movie library. Last April, PCWorld ran an article addressing precisely this issue, noting, “Netflix has a great roster of TV shows, but its movie catalog sucks, to put it bluntly” and suggesting viewers who want a better selection install a VPN and, in effect, “move to another country where Netflix offers its service. … The other day someone I know was in the mood for a baseball movie, but have you seen Netflix’s baseball movie selection right now? It's not great. The best choices were either The Bad News Bears or The Perfect Game. Fine movies, but not what he wanted. So he fired up a virtual private network provider, took a (virtual) trip over to Canada and lo and behold Netflix Canada was streaming Major League. Excellent.”
I’m also noticing a growing sense of optimism among industry insiders about a likely resurgence in popularity for the Blu-ray Disc, fueled by the advent of Ultra HD. Streaming services continue to have trouble transmitting true HD, so just imagine the clogged pipes that await a format with four times the clarity, four times the resolution, four times the pixels — and four times the data. With streaming, the focus is on getting the title to the viewer with as few buffering interruptions as possible. And while some streaming services now offer the same 1080p resolution as Blu-ray Disc, they use significantly more compression to deliver content over the Internet — which impacts image quality. As Forbes noted, “For cinephiles or even anyone inclined in that direction, HD content viewed on the finest Retina tablet display or LCD flat screen can’t come close to a Blu-ray.”
Ultra HD TVs are coming and will eventually become the standard. And if history repeats itself, the early adopters will be hungriest for content — which, at this point, is best delivered on disc. After finalizing the Ultra HD Blu-ray spec and logo back in May, the Blu-ray Disc Association is going to start licensing the technology on Aug. 24 — this coming Monday.
If the studios as well as independent content suppliers really get behind this — and I sincerely hope they will — we could see a significant lift in Blu-ray Disc sales.
I know I’m not the only one keeping my fingers crossed.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
'The Blacklist: Season 2 — The Red Edition' at Target
The hot new TV shows of the past season are starting to make their way to disc, so it's no surprise that retailer exclusives for Aug. 18 tended to focus on them.
Target offered a special "Red Edition" of both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of Sony Pictures' The Blacklist: The Complete Second Season, which came with special lenticular box art and an exclusive villains dossier.
Best Buy offered an exclusive Blu-ray edition of Paramounts' NCIS: The 12th Season, which came with two exclusive featurettes. Best Buy has the Blu-ray early, with the HD edition going wide at retail Sept. 15.
For "The Blacklist," Best Buy offered a $10 gift card with the purchase of both seasons of the show on disc.
Best Buy also continued its offer of a free $10 gift card with $50 in TV on disc purchases, or $25 with $100 in spending on the category.
Target has early availability of Warner's Peanuts Emmy Honored Collection ($19.99), which won't be widely available until Sept. 15.
Looking at the latest preorder offers, Best Buy has Jurassic World with a T-shirt and Avengers: Age of Ultron with ah steelbook case. The preorders are $19.99 each and also come with 100 My Best Buy points.
By: John Latchem
The Best of Everything (Blu-ray)
Available via SreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Hope Lange, Stephen Boyd, Suzy Parker, Joan Crawford.
1959. The Best of Everything is a novel that’s still talked about today, due to its time-capsule portrayal of fresh-faced young women (Radcliffe grads and below) trying to cut it in New York at a publishing house that looks a little less elegant once they’re stuck in the typing pool. Thus, it’s impossible to watch director Jean Negulesco’s hit screen version of it without thinking of “Mad Men.”
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Big House, U.S.A. (Blu-ray)
Kino Lorber, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Broderick Crawford, Ralph Meeker, Reed Hadley, William Talman.
1955. Structurally, this unusually brutal-for-its-day toughie is something of an odd bird because (given the title), it isn’t even a prison story until maybe a third of the way in.
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