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.
For the July 22 new releases, retailers focused their attention on Sony Pictures' Heaven Is for Real.
Target offered to give consumers a $5 gift card with the purchase of the faith-based film on disc with a copy of the book upon which it is based (priced at $12.80 for the paperback).
Walmart offered the Heaven Is for Real Blu-ray with an exclusive bonus disc containing a featurette about the family that inspired the story. Walmart also offered a DVD two-pack of the film with Soul Surfer.
Another exclusive at Walmart involved Universal's American Girl: Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight, offering the DVD with a pack-on back-to-school set.
Target offered the Isabelle DVD with a sketchbook.
The issue of Netflix wanting to run their fleet of 18 wheelers roughshod over Verizon’s roads without paying extra taxes to maintain them got me thinking about how this plays out over the long haul. I thought about a few potential scenarios, some more possible than others:
■ Someone new (Google?) comes into the picture as a new mega-ISP, flush with massive bandwidth from all the dark fiber they have been quietly buying up around the country. They serve as both content provider and distributor, cornering the market on lightning-fast downloads and streaming for an incredibly cheap price subsidized by its other businesses. To compete, Verizon buys Netflix, and other companies partner up with equally synchronistic bedfellows. Within three years all ventures collapse since nobody understands the other side(s) of the business and they eat each other from within. Somewhere, the ghost of Blockbuster says, “Heeeyyyy … that’s my jam!”
■ Fiber? Cable? DSL? It’s all obsolete as everything goes wireless. After quietly building wireless bandwidth to a level where it can support the traffic, the cell phone companies drop their data limits and embrace streaming big time, adding set-top boxes that are basically cell phones you can operate with your cell phone. (After the Big One finally hits SoCal, their spinner powered STB is the only game in town.) Soon, the cable and fiber companies are begging Netflix to use their roads at a discount. The new super ISP, T-Mob-Verizo-Flix, just laughs and has the former CEO of Redbox peel them another grape.
■ The whole issue becomes moot as the last person in America to learn how to use BitTorrent (93-year-old Marjorie Henspittle of Appalachia, Tenn.) logs on to The Pirate Bay and successfully downloads season 12 of “Game of Thrones” — the one where Tommen hooks up with Deanery’s daughter (Honey Boo Boo Stormborn) and they rule Westeros with an iron fist, a velvet glove and dragons. Nobody in Hollywood gets paid for anything anymore, but they still continue to create programming simply to qualify for awards shows.
■ Once every physical dollar has completely been replaced with a digital penny, the studios find that they can only afford to create Vines and superhero movies with sock puppets. No problem, though, since the average Mac user can make an effects-laden comic book movie in their backyard using a 4K camera for less than $500. Soon the world runs out of comic book heroes so we have to import them from the Third World. (Look! Up in the sky! It’s Súper Poderoso Hombre Asombroso Fantástico!) Nobody is getting paid (still!), but since network TV is now 97% awards shows (and “CSI”), the content flows and flows.
■ YouTube is allowed to place remote wireless cameras everywhere, and just by being born you are automatically signing a release allowing them to broadcast webcam footage of you getting hit by a car, robbing a liquor store or whatever shows up on their cameras. But the most popular YouTube channel, now in its 15th year, is the Sneezing Panda Channel (SPC), responsible for 73% of all traffic on fiber and cable. (In second place, the Getting Hit by a Car channel, which mostly is people throwing themselves in front of cars in an attempt to win something at the YouTube Award Show.)
It’s gonna be a brave new world! How’s your bandwidth?
By: Dan Crider
Kino Lorber, Western, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Burt Lancaster, Ossie Davis, Shelley Winters, Telly Savalas.
1968. Aside from Tarantino, this minor cult Western from a young Sydney Pollack likely represents the best way to make a comedy about American slavery, which is a dicey enough prospect any way you cut it.
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Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Ryan.
1949. Here’s another example of what used to be called a “woman’s picture,” in which Barbara Bel Geddes plays a relatively low-end fashion model and former carhop who gets a taste of glamour and marries an enigmatic millionaire who basically abandons her inside his cavernous Long Island digs, leading her to take a job as an assistant to a physician played by James Mason in his first American screen role.
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The impact of Netflix on how we watch movies and other filmed content is astounding. There are those who say the company’s subscription streaming service is decimating the disc sales business, while others scoff at this intimation and insist the real victim is broadcast TV.
Those who hold the latter point of view note that Netflix viewing options, at least at this point, are limited to old movies and recent duds, and that as long as the window between Netflix and Blu-ray Disc/DVD is maintained, we have nothing to worry about.
Oh, sure, there’s a definite impact from all the eyeballs watching White Chicks or “Supernatural” on Netflix instead of hot new releases on Blu-ray Disc or DVD, but the debate centers on whether those eyeballs belong to people who would, indeed, be buying new discs if Netflix wasn’t available, or if their owners are sluggish couch potatoes who’d otherwise be watching broadcast or cable television.
But there’s no question that the Netflix juggernaut keeps rolling and amassing power — with the ultimate goal, of course, of offering first-run movies and TV shows at the same exact moment they come out on disc — a move that will, of course, kill the disc business and probably a lot of other businesses alongside it, including pay-TV.
Never going to happen, you say? If the money’s right, of course it will — and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in more than 25 years of covering the home entertainment business, it’s to never, ever, say never.
As Home Media reported July 17, Netflix and The Walt Disney Co. have cut a deal in which Netflix gets exclusive pay-TV access to first-run movies in Canada beginning in 2015. A similar deal is in place here in the United States, although it’s not scheduled to start until 2016.
Netflix in Canada also gets first-run pay-TV films from Paramount, DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox.
If things continue to be heading in this direction, pay-TV will crumble and fall to Netflix’s domination — and after that, there’s really only one more market left to conquer, the disc business.
Studios won’t give it up without a fight — but the more powerful Netflix becomes and the more the disc business falters, the harder it’s going to be to resist a reasonable offer. And if Netflix can somehow figure out how to make the numbers work, offering unlimited access to new-release movies and original TV shows for $9 a month, what began as a disc-by-mail rental service challenging Blockbuster and traditional rental will truly become the pre-breakup AT&T of home entertainment.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
You’ve got to hand it to Netflix’s Reed Hastings. He certainly has a vision and follows it. In spite of a misstep a few years ago in which Netflix disc renters balked at his plans for a brave new digital world, Hastings is sticking to his roadmap of creating original programming for his streaming service, expanding streaming internationally and slowly phasing out disc.
Witness just a few of the recent events involving Netflix:
• Netflix original shows “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards” picked up multiple Emmy nominations, prompting observers to lump in the online pioneer with the cable companies that are eclipsing broadcasters at the annual awards show.
• Netflix and The Walt Disney Co. July 17 announced an agreement giving the subscription streaming pioneer exclusive pay-TV access to first-run Disney movies in Canada beginning in 2015.
• According to new data from IHS, sales of DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies in Norway and Denmark have fallen more than 50% over the past few years — the fastest rate of decline anywhere in the world — in part because of the rapid growth of Netflix.
• Even though it created the by-mail disc-rental business, Netflix stopped processing disc shipments on Saturdays in June.
Netflix executives’ laser focus on the company’s three key objectives is yielding undeniable results, and any observer certainly has to credit Hastings and his executive team for their determination and success.
Where that leads the industry at large is another question. The shrinking disc business, in part hastened by Netflix’s streaming service, has been a blow to studios, and Netflix’s cord-cutting customers have shaken up the cable and broadcast businesses in the TV sphere, which may eventually result in lower income for TV content producers. Netflix has shown a willingness to fund content — Emmy-lauded content — but is that enough to make up for the loss of income to other content creators who have built our entertainment industry into the envy of the world?
Will struggling content companies merge to save costs, putting the control of media into even fewer hands? Fox’s bid for Time Warner this month is an ominous sign.
Netflix’s quest for global domination is off to a good start. I hope its disruptive business model increases strong content, rather than shrinks it.
By: Stephanie Prange
Target's 'Rio 2' With Plush
Each of the big three major retail chains offered consumers its own exclusive promotion for the home video release of Fox's Rio 2.
Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack (non-3D version) with an exclusive pack-on plush toy, while Walmart offered the Rio 2 Blu-ray combo pack with a light-up, sound activated slapband.
Best Buy didn’t have an exclusive edition of Rio 2, but the chain did give shoppers a chance to buy a Rio 2 lunchbox for just $4.99 (regular price $9.99) with the purchase of the film on disc.
In addition, Best Buy is already taking preorders for the Blu-ray of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, offering 100 My Best Buy bonus points.
Copies of the sci-fi thriller Under the Skin, however, were in scarce supply at Best Buy, with most stores not stocking the Lionsgate title. The Best Buy website listed the title as available at the Costa Mesa, Calif., location, but it was not seen in the ne-release section or any of the store’s other disc aisles.
For Entertainment One’s Hell on Wheels: The Complete Third Season, Target offered a set of character cards with the DVD.
So This Is New York
Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Henry Morgan, Rudy Vallee, Virginia Grey, Dona Drake.
1948. So This Is New York has one of the two big-screen roles that radio humorist Henry Morgan ever had. Co-adapted by future High Noon scripter Carl Foreman from Michigan-born Ring Lardner’s The Big Town, it reflects an inveterate Midwesterner’s gander at a bulging metropolis, as reflected by Morgan’s weariness over a New York trip spearheaded by his wife and sister-in-law, who’ve both just inherited money that makes them targets for big-city sharpies. The movie is minor frivolity, but it has a wacky tone and gets a no-frills but certainly decent transfer in this Olive Blu-ray edition.
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Available via Fox Cinema Archive
Fox, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Clifton Webb, June Allyson, Fred MacMurray, Lauren Bacall.
1954. One cannot be oblivious to the reality that Woman’s World portrays a universe that must seem alien to anyone born in the last 30 or 40 years, though within the confines of a glossy piece of entertainment, I strongly suspect that it was highly accurate for the times. Three regional star achievers employed by a major auto company are called to Manhattan to see which one will replace an executive who recently died. Every lead performance here seems on the money (it’s not unheard-of to see Lauren Bacall’s performance cited as her career best), and the production is so grade-‘A’ that the budget is said to have been the biggest up to that time for a Fox modern-day drama.
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Without many major new releases July 8, Walmart put less focus on the widely available new releases than it did on its own exclusive titles, of which it had several for the week.
Possibly timed to take advantage of the July 18 theatrical release of Disney’s Planes: Fire and Rescue, Walmart trotted out Lionsgate’s animated sequel Wings: Sky Force Heroes for $12.96 and a double feature DVD of both “Wings” films for $16.96.
Timed with the World Cup, Walmart exclusively offered at $14.96 Universal’s The Class of ’92, a documentary about the rise of the Manchester United soccer club due to a fresh roster of young superstar talent, including David Beckham.
Finally, Walmart had a $9.96 DVD of CBS’s Walker Texas Ranger: One Riot, One Ranger, a feature presentation of the show’s first episode, plus a Vudu digital copy. Promotional materials touted the title as the first in a series.
Best Buy offered an exclusive Blu-ray of Asylum’s Hercules Reborn, while Target had a two-DVDs-for-$8 sale.
The Man From Laramie (Blu-ray)
Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Western, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Stewart, Cathy O’Donnell, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp.
1955. The last of five Anthony Mann-James Stewart Westerns (and eight collaborations overall), Man From Laramie is one of the team’s best and a longtime personal favorite, though it has never quite hit me as solidly as it does in this Twilight Time 4K transfer — which is apparently, per Julie Kirgo’s always ace liner notes, this swan song’s first 2.55:1 presentation since the original release.
Citizens of the unfriendly town to which Stewart’s character has just journeyed keep imploring him to leave and then act on those sentiments, but Stewart is on a mission that has something to do with an Indian massacre of a benign Cavalry patrol. The Philip Yordan-Frank Burt script has some snappy dialogue that flows naturally off the performers’ tongues.
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Adjust Your Tracking:The Untold Story of the VHS Collector
VHShitfest, Documentary. $19.95 DVD, NR.
2013. It’s true, as one of the more wizened interviewees here notes, that people will collect anything, but one would have to say that VHS mania — at least at this point in home entertainment history — reflects a special breed, especially when we see what these home and apartment-based archivists are collecting VHS copies of. Still, co-directors Dan Kinem and Levi Peretic do a passionate job of profiling passionate people. Kinem and Peretic also do a nice job of tracing what the video store experience used to be and how it collapsed so relatively quickly.
This two-DVD set is packed with extras, deleted scenes and the like.
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I recently watched First Run Features’ documentary Anita, and I actually sat through an entire lecture by professor Hill that was among the extras. I’m kind of a nerd, so my viewing habits aren’t all that surprising, but I’m always shocked — in this media saturated world with all of its distractions — that my kids like to view disc extras.
Recently, we watched the Blu-ray Disc of Warner Home Video’s The Lego Movie. Believe it or not, as they always do, my kids ran through all of the extras on the disc. Their favorite bonus wasn’t the commentary or other standards. What they most liked was the section on Lego shorts produced by amateur fans.
When I thought about it, their preference was not surprising. Amateur online entertainment often dominates their attention, rather than the slick productions on television or in movie theaters. While my generation preferred to sit in front of the TV, my kids spend hours watching YouTube stars on tablets, cell phones or computers. In addition to a variety that even dozens of cable channels can’t supply, it’s the personal touch, my kids say, that draws them to the Web. They feel as if they know online performers, who answer fans’ questions, often give their fans a nickname and talk directly to the camera like a friend.
Having grown up in a media world full of digital effects and retouching, kids, perhaps not surprisingly, seem to crave authenticity — unexpected and spontaneous entertainment. While they certainly like those popcorn flicks filling theaters, the younger generation has a unique relationship with the media they consume. Media is more personal. Heck, whole friendships are cemented online rather than by talking on the phone or in person, as with my generation. Marketers who hope to appeal to the younger set may hit their target if they emphasize a closer, more authentic relationship with the movies or television shows they are promoting.
In addition to that blockbuster saturated with digital effects, kids may respond to homemade, interactive elements that don’t have all of the rough edges smoothed; extras with a personal touch.
By: Stephanie Prange