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.
The Band Wagon (Blu-ray)
Warner, Musical, $19.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray.
1953. In a kind of daring move roughly around the two-thirds mark, story considerations get scrapped almost altogether, and Wagon turns into a dazzling rat-tat-tat revue with one socko Howard Dietz-Arthur Schwartz musical number after another.
Extras: Liza Minnelli and Michael Feinstein join forces in a bonus commentary carried over from the 2005 DVD.
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Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Arlo Guthrie, Pat Quinn, James Broderick, Pete Seeger.
1969. Here’s the only Arthur Penn achievement beyond Bonnie and Clyde to be honored with a Best Diretor Oscar nomination, a wistful hippie concoction that was and is superior to the same year’s Easy Rider. Sprung from lead Arlo Guthrie’s same-titled 18½-minute folky monologue tune that became one of the counter-culture staples of the era, Alice’s Restaurant the movie is more factually embellished than the recording, though a lot of its still ticklishly broad comedy would disqualify it as realism under any circumstances.
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Target's 'Hobbit' Blu-ray with Lego
The quest to attract buyers for Warner’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and other new releases March 24 led to a fervor of retailers rallying the troops in the form of several exclusive promotions.
Target offered an edition of the 2D Blu-ray combo pack of the concluding chapter of the “Hobbit” trilogy with pack-in Lego figures of Bard and Bain.
Best Buy offered steelbook packaging for both the Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray and The Hobbit: The Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-ray boxed set.
Walmart offered a single-disc DVD edition of Armies with special box art and almost none of the extras in the widely available two-DVD set. In fact, Walmart didn’t offer the two-DVD set, and sold its single-disc version at about the same price the other stores offered the two-DVD version. However, the DVDs weren’t tagged with a Walmart exclusive sticker, so shoppers who picked up the DVD at Walmart might not have realized there was a version available with substantial bonus features.
Walmart also offered a DVD gift pack of Universal’s Monster High: Haunted, with a Scaremester Collection DVD containing 18 episodes.
In addition, Walmart has a $24.96 preorder for Anchor Bay’s Paddington Blu-ray with an in-store box containing a plush bear and the ability to stream the movie via Vudu.com 10 days before the April 28 street date. The film will be widely available on Digital HD April 17.
For Universal’s Unbroken, Walmart offered a version of the Blu-ray containing a booklet and 30 minutes of exclusive bonus features viewable through Vudu.
Of course, Universal made available a “Legacy of Faith” DVD special edition of Unbroken exclusively through faith-based outlets Family Christian Bookstores, Mardel Christian Bookstores and ChristianBook.com, with a bonus DVD containing an additional 90 minutes of interviews.
Target offered the Unbroken Blu-ray with a collectible bookmark, while Best Buy had a steelbook version of Unbroken as well.
In anticipation of Universal’s Furious 7 in theaters, Target offered a $10 discount off any “Fast & Furious” Blu-ray ($8 each) and a remote-control car toy ($22.99) based on the franchise. The Blu-rays contain a $7.50 coupon to see the new movie, which hits theaters April 3.
Target also had in-store signage touting an additional 10% off new DVDs and Blu-rays via its Cartwheel coupon app.
John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man
Olive, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Featuring Maureen O’Hara, Martin Scorsese, Joseph McBride, Peter Bogdanovich.
2010. Here in director Sé Merry Doyle’s full-length feature, Maureen O’Hara is front and center with her remembrances of filming 1952’s The Quiet Man and working with director John Ford.
Extras: Unlike a lot of Olive releases, this one has a robust collection of local-color featurettes and outtakes.
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The Prowler (Blu-ray)
VCI, Drama, $24.97 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes.
1951. Definitive L.A. crime novelist James Ellroy referred to director Joseph Losey’s uncommonly grown-up exercise in doom as “perv noir.” This is a handsome Blu-ray of the picture’s restoration.
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It wasn’t so long ago that the top dog in the video rental business was Blockbuster Video. Blockbuster executives crafted the rental deals that the rest of the industry emulated or worked around. Now that mantle seems to have passed to Redbox, the kiosk company that was characterized as an upstart not so many years ago.
I remember a spokesperson for a major public video store chain telling me that the kiosk market was just a marginal business that would never overtake stores. He said, “How could they possibly replace video store clerks?” Another such spokesperson said online physical rental (Netflix) was a side business, never to rival the store experience. (Now, by the way, Netflix executives think disc rental is a side business, too.)
Those public video store rental chains are long gone — and still standing is Redbox. Following the stores’ demise, Redbox is the dominant outlet at which consumers rent a physical disc. Netflix has sidelined its physical disc rental business in favor of streaming and original programming for streaming, and independent or mid-level chain video rental stores are few and far between.
Pretty much every time I go to a grocery store in my neighborhood, I see a Redbox kiosk with a customer or two. For most consumers who want to rent a physical disc, Redbox is the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to view content, especially movies. Just before Blockbuster went bust in late 2013, Home Media Magazine editors fanned out to find the closest rental outlets and Redbox kiosks were by far the most convenient. I personally had to get on a freeway and travel a half hour to find the nearest Blockbuster or indie rental store. The writing was on the wall.
After the demise of many video stores, Redbox has become important to content owners as well. The studios look to Redbox to buy and rent all of their new releases (popular or not) under output deals. Independent content owners look to Redbox to pick up art house or genre titles that used to find a place in a larger video store rental market, but that the mass merchants increasingly won’t sell.
“Everybody is taking them to lunch,” one industry observer told me of Redbox. Until some other market (perhaps digital) eats their lunch, Redbox looks to be on a roll.
By: Stephanie Prange
It’s interesting to note that Netflix is now spending more money on content than HBO, BBC and Discovery. The subscription streaming behemoth, which began life as a DVD-by-mail rental service, spent more than $2 billion on content in 2014, about 20% of which went to original programming such as its hit series “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black.”
That’s a huge expense for a company that charges its customers less than $10 a month for unlimited access to all this content, but with international expansion high on its agenda Netflix seems bent on making a splash in whichever new markets it enters, at the same time casting a wary eye over its shoulders at U.S. consumers and hoping and praying they don’t come down with “Netflix fatigue,” particularly now that Amazon Prime is nipping at its heels.
This huge spend has shaken up Hollywood to the point where studios and independent content producers are seeing Netflix as a lucrative new revenue source that at least for now far eclipses what they can make from this content from traditional channels, be they foreign TV rights or good old DVD and Blu-ray Disc.
Is it sustainable? That’s a good question. Nothing, in business, ever really lasts forever, but then lengths of successful runs vary wildly. MySpace was huge, but was rather swiftly banished to the social media graveyard by Facebook, which has remained on top largely because of its popularity not so much with fickle teens as with older demographics, particularly moms, with an ingrained sense of brand loyalty. The Apple iPhone and iPad remain the Cadillacs of mobility, status symbols both because of their sleek look and incredible craftsmanship.
Netflix has an amazing amount of product, but the lack of first-run movies and spotty record regarding TV shows — you can watch “Breaking Bad” but not “Game of Thrones” — is a definite weakness; hence, the drive toward original content.
But if there’s a word of caution I could throw out here, it’s that if you’re No. 1, everyone and his brother are going to want to unseat you. Amazon Prime is just one of a growing legion of competitors, big and small, broad and niche, hungry for a bite of the Netflix-dominated OTT pie. And while Netflix is smart to look overseas to further expand its reach — in January the company, currently in 50 countries, said it wants to be in 200 by the end of 2016 — the growth potential is not unlimited.
For Netflix, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, these truly are the best of times, and the worst of times. About all Netflix can do is continue to pay big bucks to feed the beast —realizing the beast is growing hungrier all the time and hoping it won’t one day turn on its master.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
'101 Dalmatians II' Blu-ray exclusive to Target
Target March 17 had exclusive availability of the Blu-ray version of Disney's animated sequel 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure. The 2003 film was a direct-to-video follow-up to the 1961 animated classic, and the new Blu-ray is timed as a companion to the "Diamond Edition" release of the original film earlier this year. The London Adventure Blu-ray was advertised in Target's weekly ad circular for $17.99 and upon its release was available only in stores and not listed on Target's website.
Among the other new releases, DreamWorks Animation’s Penguins of Madagascar received the most attention. All the retailers sold the special packaging configurations with wind-up penguin toys, though only Walmart varied the price.
Best Buy offered a $7.99 Penguins lunchbox, though lowered the price to $4.99 when purchased at the same time as a Penguins disc.
Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack with the exclusive featurette “Are You Smarter Than a Penguin?”
For Fox’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, Best Buy offered the 3D Blu-ray combo pack with 30 minutes of additional footage.
Sony Pictures’ Blu-ray of the Annie remake at Target came with a bonus disc of exclusive extras, plus a $5 savings when the Annie movie was bought at the same time as the soundtrack CD. Target’s version of the soundtrack contained two exclusive songs.
Best Buy touted a Facebook coupon with a $5 savings off the Annie Blu-ray.
Walmart offered the Annie Blu-ray with a plush toy of the dog Sandy.
Eat Drink Man Woman
Olive, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Sihung Lung, Yu-Wen Wang, Chien-Lien Wu, Kuei-Mei Yang.
1994. As a title, Eat Drink Man Woman seems pretty apt, given that it deals with four sets of romantic relationships (involving three daughters and a father) plus a lot of food. The result is still a lovely mix of family drama and social satire. A fresh Blu-ray look at this early Taiwanese import from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee shows that it hasn’t lost a beat.
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Stormy Weather (Blu-ray)
Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Musical, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, The Nicholas Brothers.
1943. A major showcase for Lena Horne, Stormy Weather is kind of back-loaded with some of its best numbers saved till the end — but not so back-loaded that you fiddle with your socks waiting for the good stuff.
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Target's 'Mockingjay — Part 1' Blu-ray exclusive edition
The huge Friday, March 6, rollout of Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 carried over to overwhelm some of the March 10 new releases.
Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack with an exclusive bonus DVD containing four behind-the-scenes featurettes running about 45 minutes total, plus special box art and a booklet.
Best Buy offered the film in a steelbook case, while Walmart offered a slimmed-down Blu-ray edition with special box art, no DVD version and minimal extras.
For the March 10 titles, a couple new kidvid titles drew the most promotional interest. Walmart offered a DVD gift set of Fox’s “Air Bud” spinoff Russell Madness with a doggie plush, while Target offered a $5 discount when Warner’s The Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age Smackdown! was purchased with a 6-inch WWE action figure (priced at $9.99).
Best Buy has an exclusive window on the Blu-ray edition of Image Entertainment’s Wolfcop, which will be available elsewhere May 12.
Walmart had an exclusive version of the two-disc Blu-ray of The Sound of Music: 50th Anniversary Edition with a booklet, as well as a Peppa Pig: Muddy Puddles gift set with a plush toy.
Among Best Buy preorders, Universal’s Unbroken includes steelbook packaging and Paramount’s Interstellar includes exclusive bonus content, as does Warner’s American Sniper.
Are gathering clouds raining on studios’ digital sales?
It seems Warner CEO Kevin Tsujihara thinks that might be the case. Different studio-backed cloud-based content ownership services are confusing consumers and slowing digital growth, he said.
Since the introduction of UltraViolet, supported by most major studios, Disney has been a holdout, preferring to support its own subsequently introduced cloud-based service, Disney Movies Anywhere, rather than join the UV accumulation. Various industry observers have debated the merits of Disney’s different path, but many came to the conclusion that both clouds could coexist nicely without damaging digital growth on the horizon.
Tsujihara appears to disagree.
“It would be my goal to bridge [UltraViolet] with what Disney is doing, so the consumer doesn’t have to guess is that a Disney movie, or is that a Fox, Sony, Paramount, Universal or Warner Bros. movie?” Tsujihara said March 4 at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom confab in San Francisco. He noted that while digital sales of movies increased 50% in 2013, growth slowed to 30% in 2014 and is about the same so far this year, which will not be strong enough to offset declining disc sales.
While two cloud services can coexist — indeed they do — it seems to me that they need to be connected through consistent marketing and operational logistics, making access to both seamless to the consumer. Consumers want simple services, and they really don’t care (or often even recall) which studio owned the content they want to acquire. Format options can stimulate, rather than kill, a market. But sometimes, as with the many TV versions of 3D, they scramble the message so much that consumers begin to boycott the market altogether.
“We have to focus on what the consumer is looking for: Simplicity. The magical thing about DVD was it was simple, easy and worked everywhere. I think we have to replicate that in EST,” Tsujihara said.
Making that sort of simplicity work for non-physical ownership is one of the key challenges facing studios, no matter which cloud they follow.
By: Stephanie Prange
The Federal Communications Commission’s landmark ruling to declare Internet providers public utilities has met with a mixed response from those in the entertainment business.
The overriding sentiment appears to applaud the concept, but wonder — and maybe even worry — about the execution.
The concept is clear and, in my book, appropriate: Anything relied on as heavily by the public as electricity, or the Internet, needs to be protected in some fashion. And though as a small-government advocate it pains me to say this, the only viable method we have of protecting the public is through the regulatory arm of government.
California’s brief attempt to de-regulate utilities in the early 2000s was a disaster: energy bills tripled, and $10 billion left California in one month alone, bound for the corporate treasuries of unregulated power generators.
That’s because the private sector is not out to ensure what’s best for the public. The private sector answers to its shareholders, and its overarching goal is to maximize profits, not do what’s best for the public.
In the case of most businesses, that’s fine. Let the free market reign. But the big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are different: They provide a delivery line, not a product or service, and keeping those lines open is critical for the public good. Unfortunately, we’ve seen them act the way any smart, for-profit business would act: in their own best interests. Verizon, AT&T and Comcast want the freedom to charge what they wish. They claim that they can’t afford all the investments they’ve been making and that companies like Netflix and YouTube are making gobs of money off their pipes and need to ante up more money to compensate the ISPs for all the extra bandwidth they are consuming.
The problem here is that the extra costs get passed down to consumers.
Under net neutrality — which the FCC finally accomplished through its finding that ISPs, like the big power companies, are public utilities and thus have to answer to a higher authority (the public) rather than their shareholders — all websites are equal. The commission has effectively eliminated the ability of ISPs to charge interconnect fees to ensure faster streaming speeds. This is as it should be, if you consider any attempt to restrict the public’s access to information — which is what higher costs invariably do — a breach of our constitutional rights.
The downside of government control, of course, is the prospect of over-regulation and, with it, a bigger bureaucracy — and more fees and more taxes to pay for it.
Netflix CFO David Wells really said it best when he intimated that in a perfect world, ISPs and companies like Netflix would be able to work things out on their own and reach some sort of compromise. “We were hoping there might be a non-regulated solution to it,” Wells said at the recent Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom confab in San Francisco.
But since that hasn’t happened — and clearly wasn’t going to happen — the FCC made the right call.
By: Thomas K. Arnold