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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.


Opinion
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8 Apr, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: VOD Is A Reality. It's Called DVD

While prices for newly released DVDs of recent theatrical hits appear to be inching upward, as we recently reported, there are voices in Hollywood who believe this is merely a temporary blip on an otherwise downward spiral.

They envision a day in the not-too-distant future when consumers will be able to buy the latest and greatest DVDs for about $10, half the price of a CD. Some studio naysayers see such a scenario as foolishness and wonder why anyone would want to cut prices, particularly so drastically, when demand is soaring.

But there's a method to what some see as this madness, and it is this: by pricing DVDs so low, the discs will be fully embraced by those retailers who live and die by the impulse buy. DVDs will be available for sale on supermarket endcaps, at the drugstore checkout counter, maybe even in the convenience store, right next to the chips and salsa display. Music stores would sell DVDs alongside CDs (as so many already are); today's video rental stores would sell DVDs and pride themselves on their breadth of copy, just as they did in the pre-copy-depth days of VHS, without having to worry too much about being outsold by the big discount chains (there's less wiggle room on a $10 SRP than there is on something listing for $24.99).

DVDs will fast become ubiquitous, this line of thinking goes. The rental-priced cassette will disappear, and while some retailers will still rent DVDs the vast majority will sell them, simply because for 10 bucks consumers will prefer buying to renting, with all its inherent hassles (return trips, late fees, etc.).

At this point, skeptics might wonder, all right, so you're going to kill the rental business and cut sellthrough revenues in half, practically giving away discs for $10 when you could just as easily sell them for $20. Where's the logic in this?

For starters, sellthrough would become a volume business, bigger than anyone ever dreamed of in the VHS-only days. This, in turn, would give packaged media a virtually foolproof hedge against video-on-demand, if not a preemptive strike, because consumers would be enticed to build their own movie libraries and thus have no need for an electronic archive that requires a $3.95 charge on their credit card or cable bill every time they want to watch a movie.

The argument could be made that $3.95 is still cheaper than $10, but the Hollywood voices say the difference is nominal when one takes into account two things: 1) the wealth of special features that come with a typical DVD, a menu that's sure to become even more expansive – and interactive – as time, and technology, progress, and 2) our ingrained aversion toward paying as we go for our home entertainment.

This last point needs some clarification. In the last 25 years, television has become demonstrably better. We've gone from 12 channels to hundreds of channels, dozens of them devoted to nothing but movies – and yet everything gets paid for on a monthly basis, just like the water bill, the power bill, the car payment and the mortgage.

Every attempt to get us to pay per transaction has failed. Pay-per-view is a joke, limited to boxing matches and other sports contests where one "subscriber" invites the whole neighborhood and the actual yield per viewer is minimal. Divx, the pay-per-play DVD variant that bowed its pathetic head in 1998, has become one of the entertainment industry's most notorious (and costly) failures.

Simply put, these Hollywood voices say, the coming arrival of true video-on-demand doesn't necessarily mean there's going to be a market for it. And any market that does emerge could quickly be derailed by cheapo DVDs and the rapid build-up of home movie libraries. Instant access and a vast selection of titles, without mortgaging the farm—video-on-demand, just with a different flavor.


4 Apr, 2002

WORKING WEEKEND: A Full-Staff Salute to USA

It wasn't the biggest party I've ever been to. The Hollywood extravaganzas he major studios threw at the VSDA Conventions of the ‘80s and ‘90s made it look downright inconsequential.

But in my 19 years of attending VSDA, few of its classic parties were more memorable and arguably none were more poignant than what I experienced Thursday night as a privileged invitee of USA Home Entertainment's last dance at Manhattan's Marriott East Side Hotel. This was a staff event – one filled with emotion and camaraderie. Yet, it's so typical of the character of my friends at USA that they made me feel welcome and at home.

It might sound corny to call it the end of an era, but the fact remains that come April 15 – when operations for the proud and feisty video label are transferred to USA Networks' new owner Universal Studios -- it's not the IRS that will be nagging at the thoughts of more than 20 employees of USA Home Entertainment. It's the thought one of the passionate players at president Joe Amodei's farewell party for his loyal crew put it, "We're kicking ass and losing our jobs."

Let's hang some numbers on the ass-kicking. How about 2-1/2 million DVDs of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic. Or half a million copies of the most Patriot-ic Super Bowl ever played. USA is justifiably proud that it routinely pulled off such sales coups with marketing budgets small enough to have fallen out of the pockets of the major studios without notice.

At a label of limited resources like USA, it's not dollars that drive the marketing machine but ingenuity and sweat. With modest budgets behind product that didn't do boffo box office, you simply can't afford cookie cutters.

In his farewell remarks, USA Films chairman Scott Greenstein noted that "15 years ago, most studios would have laughed at the thought of an independent production company like this being attached to it." Conversely, he added, five years from now, studios like Universal – driven no doubt at the moment by economic uncertainty and other intangibles – may regret not having held on to an agile, fiery creative boutique like USA. After all, it did produce one of this year's Best Picture nominees, Gosford Park, which had been on USA's release schedule, but now will bear the Universal stamp.

Greenstein, formerly of Miramax, also gave Joe Amodei his props by saying "you did it the way I would have done it if I knew what you know about this business." He related how not long ago USA's slate was so rife with art house films, Joe would come into his boss' office and ask Scott, hopefully, "Please tell me that the next film we have is in English."

The incomparable Robert Altman, director of that film (and no fan of Hollywood's ruling class of corporate imperialists), sent USA Home Entertainment an extraordinary message Thursday that read, in part, "I love you guys without reservation. For you, it's about the film. In the world we work in these days, that is rare indeed. My deep, deep thanks to all of you."

In addition, USA staffers fielded calls from content partners, such as NFL Films, saddened by the label's demise, saying, "Please don't go away."

After reminiscing about "living a dream" attending the Oscars and getting to work directly with the likes of Steven Soderbergh, Bob Altman, Albert Brooks, Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich") and the Coen Brothers, Joe Amodei -- whose love of movies is exceeded perhaps only by his peerless passion for Ol' Blue Eyes -- put it all into perspective.

He said in the end, it's not all about working with big name filmmakers or the sales numbers on Traffic or Michael Jordan's video or the Super Bowl. He said he was taught a long time ago it's about the three Fs – Family, Faith and Friends. All of those were in abundant evidence Thursday night along with three Ps – pride, passion and poise.

And with all the memorable moments he's had at USA, concluded Amodei, his voice breaking, what he'll remember more than anything is a day in November when the USA staff, along with solid industry citizens like Flash Distributors president Steve Scavelli, took the day off from their usual workload to, in Amodei's words, "do something for those guys who went into those buildings September 11."

What they did that day was visit more than 100 firehouses in Manhattan and Brooklyn, delivering to each a VCR and hundreds of videotapes, more than 25,000 movies in all. As if that weren't enough, Amodei resolved that this act of generosity would not be publicized in any way – and has not been, until now.

So it's fitting that the evening came to a close in the wee hours with the USA staff, Steve Scavelli and this reporter ringing the dance floor, swaying in a group embrace and serenading Joe with the national anthem of Hoboken, "My Way."

USA's way was way cool. It is exiting the industry with as much class as the people there brought to a marketplace that can always use more of it.

Just promise us one thing, Joe & Co. Don't be strangers.


4 Apr, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: DVD and VHS Pricing Tests Continue

Two studios this week demonstrated some resistance to the declining price of DVDs both as a way to find the highest possible margins on DVD, and as a way to buttress against the too-rapid pace of conversion away from the VHS cassette. As I have said in this space several times this year already, 2002 will see a lot of exploration in pricing schemes as studios look for the right combination of rental versus sellthrough pricing, VHS versus DVD pricing.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment announced a slate of five high-profile titles, all at a suggested retail price of $29.99, most definitely on the high end of the DVD sellthrough spectrum. What makes this price point all the more interesting is that it is attached to some of the more critically acclaimed films from the studio this year, indicating that Disney may be exploring the finer areas of price elasticity when it comes to high-profile, (if not high-grossing) films.

The films are: The Shipping News streeting June 18, ($11.4 million box office); The Royal Tenenbaums, streeting July 9 ($51.6 million B.O.); Amelie, streeting July 16 ($31.1 million B.O.); In the Bedroom, streeting Aug. 13 ($35.1 million B.O.); and Iris, streeting Aug. 20 ($4.5 million B.O.).

Video Store Magazine has reported in the recent past on indications that Disney's DVD pricing has, by and large, not followed the downward trend, perhaps to maintain a pricing level that befits consumers' value perception of the product at this point. It will be interesting to see how other studios react to Disney's move in the coming months.

Later in the week MGM Home Entertainment announced it was testing a new pricing scheme designed to extend VHS's lifespan in this period of transition. MGM set a $22.50 dealer price on both its DVD and VHS versions of rental-destined A Rumor of Angels, allowing retailers to be flexible with their purchase balance of the two formats depending on their local markets, and to take the VHS to DVD conversion at a more manageable pace.

"Retailers will purchase at least as many or an equal number of VHS to DVD, where before you had a segment of retailers pushing to do away with VHS simply because there was such a big difference in cost," said Ted Engen, president of the Video Buyers Group.

Here we have one very interesting attempt by a studio to explore the upper reaches of studio return for sellthrough DVD titles in that fine realm of critically successful films with a narrower appeal. While the MGM program also keeps its DVD pricing high on a similarly narrow-appealing film, but also tests the lower reaches of VHS pricing to see if, "all things being equal," VHS can put the brakes to its precipitous drop in the face of DVD and avoid an untimely death. The idea here being that VHS's dramatic decline, at least in the rental business, may be manufactured to an extent by a price differential between the two formats pushing retailer adoption of DVD software for reasons of retail economics more so than by consumer demand. Keep in mind that the penetration of DVD has a long way to go before it reaches the number of U.S. households still actively using VHS.

It will be interesting to see how these various pricing tests do, and to what extent DVD pricing continues to go lower this year as DVD player penetration rises.


2 Apr, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Is VOD Just A Fat Pipe Dream?

Even as the studios ready their video-on-demand (VOD) ventures for online launch, I'm starting to move into the camp that says VOD is probably a fat pipe dream, at least for the cable and satellite providers. Digital subscriber line (DSL) progress isn't faring much better.

Like telecommunications companies, the cable and satellite systems (some even have sister telcos, or are trying to acquire one) all seem to suffer the same, decidedly low-tech problem: lousy customer service. Also like the telcos, they overpromise, underdeliver and labor under the arrogant delusion that America could no more live without cable or satellite TV than without baseball or apple pie.

A few months back I gave Time Warner cable the heave-ho in favor of satellite, mainly because of the high cost and incompetent service Time Warner is delivering in my market – the same things that made the rest of my neighborhood switch. After four months I can honestly say satellite is a better deal for me, but it has more to do with the way programming packages are structured than with DirecTV – which is no better at service than Time Warner was.

The telco tales offer a little 20/20 hindsight. A few years ago they rushed onto a fiberoptic field of dreams chanting "If you build it, they will come" mentality.

The frenzy fed itself as they kept promising wirelines, wireless and all from the same company, which in theory would give consumers streamlined service at lower rates. Now that the country, even the world, is picking through the rubble of Global Crossing, it's easy to see the flaws in this approach.

Telcos promised those new fiberoptic networks (like Global Crossing's) would bring DSL to your doorstep and, darnit, they promised investors, you and I would not be able to survive in a speedy world without it.

What they forgot to mention to most customers is that it could be months between a consumer's order for DSL and the time the company could deliver it. Much of that owed to an issue broadly called "the last mile" – the fiberoptics were laid from the network backbones to switching stations, but getting the technology the last mile from those stations to homes is a bit trickier. It's also very expensive, so telcos had to be guaranteed an economy of scale before sinking the money into closing the last mile gap.

It works similar to preselling a video release, with one key difference: When a retailer presells a video, (s)he has a reasonable expectation (s)he will have the video to deliver on the promised date. When telcos promise service, they really, really hope they will be able to deliver it, but often there's a big "whoops" factor in play ("Whoops! Not enough people in your area signed up yet, you'll have to wait").

The pattern has been similar for market-by-market digital cable and satellite rollouts and it's going the same way, even slower, for digital television, with the added hurdle of protecting digital signals from copyright enfringement.

Those who don't learn from history are destined to repeat it as the telcos, cable and satellite providers and even the studios are doing now.

Taking a page from the telco manual, DirecTV got me to switch by offering me a free dish, set-top box and free installation to get me started (this tactic accounts for a substantial percentage of the 8 million new subscribers DirecTV recently told its shareholders it signed up last year).

Well, they couldn't very well get me to subscribe to their services without the dish and set-top box, so those showed up on time. But five months later, I'm still waiting for my $140 installation rebate and I'm learning I'm far from the only one.

When I called DirecTV last week to find out about it, the rep said she would have to turn my request over to a supervisor, who would handle it as an "overdue rebate." She couldn't tell me what to expect after that or when I might see my check (are you hearing the telco theme in the background yet?). She escalated my call to a customer service supervisor who wasn't there. I left a message on his voice mail and have yet to hear a peep from him.

Meanwhile, dealers are already taking DirecTV to Los Angeles Superior Court. Plaintiffs in Garcia et al v. DirecTV, filed last October, allege DirecTV, for whom the dealers acquired subscribers, failed to pay dealers promised commissions on the new subscriber installations and residual monthly income based on the subscribers' monthly payments. The plaintiffs want more than $300 million in damages. DirecTV is defending against the charges, but it's starting to sound like the satellite provider shifted its gamble from installers to consumers.

I'm not holding my breath for VOD on satellite or cable. The providers can't seem to get their existing services together so there is no reason to believe they will do better with the increased personalization that VOD demands.

Now, what about Internet VOD? The studios are working on it, all the while contending weak copy protection and inadequate broadband penetration hinder its progress. The broadband providers say their adoption has plateaued because there is no compelling (read: studio) content available to incent people to subscribe to broadband.

The truth is, it's all smoke and mirrors. It's going to be a lot more difficult and expensive to deliver VOD than anyone predicted. Will it ever be a reality? Not at this rate. The companies that could make it happen are all too busy giving away the store for market share and pointing fingers at each other for messing it up.

I gotta go now. I have to go choose between the $40 check AT&T just sent me to get me to switch phone companies or the three months of free DSL that Sprint and Verizon are offering.


1 Apr, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Extras Increasingly Essentials on DVD

Studios may consider DVD supplemental material a neat, if not essential, valued-added item on the disc format, but consumers may be coming to expect the special edition treatment.

To satisfy consumers, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment last month announced the addition of a disc of extras to some of its Superbit titles. Originally, these releases were designed to offer boosted picture and sound quality instead of extras. The idea was to use the discs' entire capacity on the feature itself, rather than on things like "making-of" featurettes and deleted scenes. Now the studio has decided to make select Superbit titles even more "super" by adding a disc of extras to the mix and calling the double-disc series "Superbit Deluxe." Superlatives aside, it looks like extras are increasingly becoming essential on DVD.

In July 2001, Video Store Magazine did a survey of independent retailers asking about the value of DVD extras. At the time, 60 percent of the retailers surveyed reported extras were important to their customers – and that was nearly a year ago. Now that retailers carry more DVDs and consumers are more familiar with discs, that percentage may have grown. Among the top extras in the July 2001 survey were outtakes and deleted scenes, with 48 percent and 46 percent of surveyed retailers, respectively, reporting that customers look for these features. Close behind was "making-of" information at 45 percent.

My own experience bears out the importance of extras to the consumer. As I commented last week, many parents in my informal 4-year-old birthday party survey mentioned extra features like deleted scenes as reasons they like DVD. In my own household, my husband and I will often look at the supplemental material before we watch the movie – especially if we've seen the film in the theater. With A.I. Artificial Intelligence, for instance, we watched the extras first one evening because we didn't have time to view the whole film and we'd already seen it. In that case, the extras, which detailed the special effects, were almost as much of an attraction as the movie itself.

While it remains to be seen if studios will continue to toe the line on (i.e. pay for) supplemental material – and if consumers will squawk much if it disappears – evidence suggests it is appreciated in the marketplace. Unlike its older cousin VHS, DVD with its extras is not just a small copy of the film, but a unique and interactive home viewing experience.


28 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: DVD Is Evolving Into a New Art Form

The Aug. 6 launch of New Line Home Entertainment's first home video release of The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring is a full two-disc package including the original ‘PG-13' theatrical version and two hours of special features, priced at $29.95. This was somewhat of a surprise to me, albeit a pleasant one. When we first reported on the possibility of a two-stage release for The Lord of the Rings, I expected more of a "vanilla" version of the movie, followed later by the "real" DVD package of features and other extras.

What we learned this week, of course, is that New Line and director Peter Jackson have developed a huge amount of additional material from the movie for DVD use, much of it shot and edited expressly for home video. Their commitment means that the initial Aug. 6 release is far from vanilla and includes 15 featurettes with interviews with cast members and information on Middle-earth, three in-depth "making of" programs revealing "secrets behind the production," the Enya "May it Be" music video, a 10-minute preview of The Two Towers coming to the big screen this Dec. 18, a preview of the Electronic Arts' video game The Two Towers, original trailers and TV spots and other content. The home video will be released in both widescreen and full screen formats.

What is very exciting to me is the groundbreaking effort to use the DVD platform as the genesis for the creation of a special "extended edition" (among an array of other features on four discs) slated to street Nov. 12. It's not just that there will be more than 30 minutes of previously unseen footage in this version (a glorified director's cut), but that it is truly a new film with 30 minutes of new scenes and music edited into the narrative to create a fuller, richer movie for the serious fan. Many of the scenes were shot with the DVD in mind and, in fact, Jackson is back in New Zealand shooting additional footage and recording new music for the extended edition. (The possible ‘R' rating that may be attached to the "extended edition" would be the result of a graphic, climactic battle scene near the end of the movie.)

DVD, with its capacity for greater storage, programmability and interactivity, is clearly on the cusp of developing into an art form all its own. DVD programming has become more than just an extension of the home video movie marketing business, it is evolving into a legitimate creative force in entertainment. The Lord of the Rings may be the most dramatic example of this yet, but other properties in the future, especially mega-sequal properties like Harry Potter, may draw from New Line's example -- which not only creates a five-month marketing event leading up to the next movie, but keeps the DVD perceived value high in consumers' minds and thus helps to keep it from becoming just another commodity product platform delivering movies. It's delivering a truly new entertainment experience and that can only be a great thing for the home video business.


27 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Long Live the King!

Much was revealed at last night's video coming out party for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Much, but not everything.

It started when a Warner shuttle dropped our crew off across the street from a round door that obviously belonged to a hobbit hole. By all accounts such fetes have become a rarity even in Hollywood in recent months -- lavish elfin goodies served in a Middle-earth environment that got everyone in the spirit of the event, if anyone wasn't yet by the time we got that far.

Getting that far was really what it was all about. Like the books that inspired the movie franchise, it's all about the journey.

This quest wandered from J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy to director/writer/producer Peter Jackson's cinematic vision to New Line's faith and eventually to box office victory. Reaching for the Ring has been a long road for those who traveled it and, like the movie, it's just the first volume. The Rings have brought the industry a couple of firsts and the video trek seems natural against that backdrop.

"We're positioning The Fellowship of the Ring release as a five-month event," gushed Stephen Einhorn, president and CEO of New Line Home Entertainment.

The retail journey starts Aug. 6 with the release of the theatrical version with a 10-minute teaser of The Two Towers, plus an extra disc of special features.

Then comes a carefully crafted, four-disc Special Extended Edition Nov. 12. This one will include 30 minutes of scenes that were cut for theatrical audiences -- not as displaced deleted scenes, but recut into their proper places in the story to add detail about the relationships. I expect it's another first to have the orchestra (in this case the London Philharmonic) recording the cues that were dropped in the cuts to make the soundtrack as seamless as the extended movie, which is expected to get an 'R' rating.

Finally it's the holiday grail of a set that will include the extended edition, collectable game cards, bookends designed by the film's artists, documentaries and the National Geographic 'Beyond the Movie' DVD, all boxed in the artwork of Alan Lee, who illustrated J.R.R. Tolkien's books.

It's a brilliant marketing strategy. The video releases are structured to hit the widest possible audience first, then hold the attention of more mature audiences and die-hard fans of the trilogy.

Never before could a studio plan a video release so tightly around the release of theatrical sequels, mainly because nobody has ever had a three-flick series in the can before the first movie screened in theaters. That reality lets New Line map a strategy using the video releases as signposts to the theater just in time for The Two Towers (Dec. 18) with absolutely no fear that bad weather, temperamental stars or funding issues might delay the next step.

Add to that the music, toys and other merchandise, the Rings will be top of mind for the next two years at least.

Going in, some people speculated that other wizard might work the biggest video magic this year. Coming out, they weren't so sure.


25 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Birthday Parties: A Font of Market Research

If recordbreaking sales of Shrek (7.9 million DVDs) and numerous presales of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone hadn't convinced me of the discs' incursion into the family market, my daughter's birthday party sealed it.

At a party for 4-year-olds, pretty much the only thing to do to pass the time before cake and presents (if you aren't interested in party games like face painting and balloon animals) is to chat with the other parents. Being immersed in the video industry, I naturally took the opportunity to question them about DVD.

First question: Had they even heard of it? The last time I asked about DVD (about a year ago) all I got were blank stares. This time I not only encountered recognition, but parents gushed over the extras, mentioning deleted scenes and the like. They also mentioned how easy it was to store DVDs, as they are much smaller than cassettes. Only one of the dozen or so parents had only a VCR. All the rest had DVD players, and one even watched DVDs through a game console (naturally, she has teenagers).

Next, I asked what sort of DVDs they had accumulated for the little darlings. Many had purchased such recent releases as Walt Disney Home Video's Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and the special edition of Peter Pan. I would bet those same purchases would have been VHS cassettes last year. One parent even asked if E.T. — just re-released in theaters — was available yet on DVD, recalling fond memories of taking her older children to the original theatrical release of the Steven Spielberg hit.

While certainly not scientific, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that DVD is alive and well in the suburbs and quickly taking the place of VHS in the family library. Parents may be holding onto cassettes they've already purchased, but new additions to the library are all DVD.

No doubt these same 4-year-olds will one day look at VHS cassettes the way today's teenagers view vinyl record albums – quaint, clumsy and decidedly old-fashioned.


25 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Wall-toWal-Mart DVDs

This is a hot week in home video. The Academy Awards were held last night and indications are that the winners are going to enjoy a surge in demand on home video—the ones that are out, of course.

My question is this: are retailers capitalizing on this opportunity? To a lot of the smaller dealers I've spoken with in recent weeks, the Oscars are almost old hat. These retailers collect a few dozen past winners, display them in a corner of the store with a tired "Oscar winners" sign, and then toss in a few copies of this year's crop.

People, people! If I was a retailer, I'd pump the hell out of Oscar, and the funny thing is, the big video sellers — not the specialists — are the ones who are doing exactly that.

Take Wal-Mart, for example. The mass merchant's in-store plans are top secret, as always — Wal-Mart doesn't think much of tipping the hat to the competition in advance, although TV ads for the last couple of weeks have focused on DVD.

But online, it's another story. Last week, the home page for Wal-Mart.com defaulted to a huge banner ad that read, "Choose From Over 10,000 Movies!" DVDs of three nominated films — Moulin Rouge ($18.88), Training Day ($19.95) and the not-yet-released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ($19.95) — were prominently featured with "click and buy" buttons.

That Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is included might come as a surprise to veteran Wal-Mart watchers who associate the chain with impulse buyers, as evidenced by its huge selection of budget-priced cassettes and discs.

But a spokeswoman tells me that at the online unit, where DVDs typically outsell cassettes, advance sales are very much part of the picture — so much that Harry Potter has been the top seller since it was announced in early February, just as it's been at Amazon.com.

The one thing that remains the same at both Wal-Mart incarnations, brick-and-mortar and virtual, is low price. Online, Harry's selling for seven bucks off the suggested list price, and that includes shipping.

Amazon.com is also selling Harry Potter for $19.95—but shipping is $2.98 extra.

But I digress. The fact is Wal-Mart, where video is only a small part of the mix, is making a big to-do about the Oscars, even to the point of preselling a title that's not even out on video yet — not to mention a huge banner ad on the home page of the entire online store.

Many video specialists are doing a lot less — and then they wonder how the mass merchants "steal" their business.

Price may be a factor, but clearly, there's a lot more to it than that.


21 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Readers' Picks Poll Has Standing

Video Store Magazine and Hive4Media.com have announced the winners of the first annual Oscar Readers' Picks Awards. For the past five weeks we have solicited the home entertainment industry for its choices for winners in 24 Oscar categories, with voting taking place via HTML e-mail ballots and this Web site. A few Internet-challenged folks even wrote in for ballots. In the end more than 1,300 votes were tallied from the full spectrum of our readership base including studio/home video unit executives, video specialty retailers, mass merchants and a broad variety of other retailers, and distributors. You can get the full story here.

While the point of this poll was to have fun, I think the results should be taken with some seriousness. After all, while the voters in this poll (that's you) may not be movie business "peers" as are official Academy members, you are, just as importantly, business partners. Important business partners, as we all know, from the amount of revenue home video contributes to the major studios and independents who create these films.

And of course, you watch a lot of movies! Your livelihood depends on correctly positioning and marketing the quality of these verifiable critical and popular successes nominated for Academy Awards. This is, as we have always heard, a hits driven business. Choosing the "best" in popular media is, obviously, a subjective choice that must lie somewhere between the achievement of certain cinematic artistic and esoteric qualities, and the ability to have these qualities delivered in a way that enriches the widest possible audience. That, in a nutshell, makes for an overall success. Who better to make that choice than the people who must try and market these products from here on out to 90 percent of the U.S. households with some form of video playback machine?

That being said, the home video industry seems to be concurring with the vast consensus of awards already given and polls already taken, at least on the Big 4. When it comes to Best Picture you picked A Beautiful Mind (hands down); Best Director, Ron Howard (hands down); Best Actor, Russell Crowe (hands down); Best Actress, Nicole Kidman (close, very close; it's a three-way race here with Kidman, Halle Berry and Sissy Spacek).

Hopefully, we'll draw some attention with this Readers' Picks poll and look forward to an even bigger voter turnout next year. See you at the Oscars.