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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.

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21 Jul, 2003

Show Could Be Reborn This Year

While many have long said that the VSDA show isn't what it used to be, the fact that exhibit suites are sold out this year may be a sign that next week's event will mark its rebirth.

It's an endorsement for the suite concept that show organizers have forwarded this year. And the show won't just be about suite meetings.

“We will have more parties at Home Entertainment 2003 than we have had in years,” said Don Rosenberg, group video director, Home Entertainment Events. Home Entertainment Events is a division of Advanstar Communications, publisher of Video Store Magazine.

Such luminaries as director Kevin Smith, who has long championed the video business, will be showing up, not to mention the Smothers Brothers, Peter Fonda and, as announced yesterday, renowned jazz keyboardist Freddie Ravel.

There may be no exhibit floor, but the pizzazz is likely to return to the show this year.

All indices for the event are up, with show preregistration ahead 5 percent to 10 percent from last year.

Here's hoping it's a great success.

20 Jul, 2003

The Kids Are Better Than Alright!

When Pioneer Entertainment comes out Sept. 30 with it's The Who: The Kids Are Alright, believe me I'll be right there to grab one and throw it on the DVD player the moment I get home. My wife will roll her eyeballs and leave the room, my daughters will groan and wander off to their bedrooms to listen to something that wasn't from the Stone Age, and I won't give it a second thought. I will be transported back to my college days in the in the early ‘70s, back when getting a ticket to a Who concert meant camping out in a parking lot and then bribing your way up in line to get a ticket which only then allowed you to get in another line to actually buy a ticket.

And as far as the concerts were concerned, well, they were religious experiences as anyone can tell you, with Pete Townshend doing his windmill on the guitar, Roger Daltrey swinging the microphone, Keith Moon going apoplectic on the drums and bassist Entwistle standing stone still while contributing to the hugest sound in rock and roll.

I will not be alone that day. I can guarantee the same scenario will be playing out in baby-boomer living rooms all across the country. It's going to be a watershed title for the concept of DVD music because, in many ways, The Who was a spectacular concert band, playing the kind of anthem rock that could rivet even the person standing (nobody sat) 20,000 people back in the far reaches of the arena.

Video Store Magazine associate editor Jessica Wolf, in her article in this week's edition in our Music DVD section, explores the baby boom attraction and adoption of music DVD (there is also an article about The Who DVD). In it, a number of suppliers (probably a few of them baby boomers themselves) credit the musicianship and quality of the song writing from such “classic” bands as Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and, of course, The Beatles, as the driving force behind these acts enjoying a significant share of success on music DVD right now, attracting, naturally, the baby boom generation who grew up with the music. Of course, that is not to say you aren't also seeing a lot of contemporary acts like 50 Cent and Norah Jones make these top-selling lists, which they are.

But I would also argue that baby boomers have a higher penetration of home theater systems and surround sound set ups, as opposed to the 20- and early-30-somethings, and that is also contributing to these acts enjoying success on DVD. As pricing drops for home-theater-in-a-box systems, I am sure we will continue to see a greater spread of successful music DVDs chronologically.

For the time being, though, older dudes like myself will just have to be pardoned for making fools of ourselves in front of the TV reliving our youth. I can't wait.

17 Jul, 2003

Break Out the Popcorn....

I saw an incredibly entertaining movie this week, Pirates of the Caribbean. And side from the fact that director Gore Verbinski and I are both alumni of the San Diego club scene, I have to say that this type of spectacle movie will likely be the harbinger of more to come — and that's a very good thing, in my book.

I liken it to Gangs of New York — period setting, lots of action, great costumes and a defining role for a veteran actor (Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs, Johnny Depp in Pirates) — except not as dark, not as violent.

But in any event, these big, gorgeously shot spectacle movies are massively entertaining, and while they look great on the big screen they're perfectly suited to both DVD and to high-definition, which is why we're going to see what at this point is still a trickle begin to accelerate.

Films like Pirates are the New Las Vegas of the movie world, not the dingy Circus Circus or the ritzy, high-brow Bellagio, but rather the Venetian — grand and glorious, beautiful and just ever-so-slightly cheesy.

I'm going to get bold here and make two predictions:

    Come Sunday night, we're not — I repeat, NOT — going to see the significant dropoff from first-week box office proceeds that we've seen with practically all the other highly touted summer theatrical releases, including The Incredible Hulk. I don't see Pirates having a Titanic-like marathon run, but I do think the film will make nearly as much money its second week in theaters as the first.

    That said, regardless of how well Pirates does, and regardless of how long Pirates does well, we're going to see it hit video before Christmas. As one longtime video industry observer noted, “This year, there is no fifth quarter—all the summer movies will be in stores by the holidays.”

Retailers can expect to reap considerable booty from Pirates, just as exhibitors are now. I predict this will be one of those movies to score really big in theaters and on home video — a win-win that gives further fuel to my contention that this is the start of a new trend.

A real “spectacle,” if you will.

15 Jul, 2003

Random Thoughts From the Consumer POV

I don't have a lot to say on any one topic this week so I'm just going to comment on a few random observations from the marketplace. Don't expect them to be related, but if you see a connection – or not – you're welcome to send your comments.

For a while I was pulling for Kmart to survive, but after a chance stop at my neighborhood Kmart yesterday, I've lost faith in Kmart's ability to pull it out. Not only was the garden section nearly bare (half a table of marigolds on their last gasp and a few bags of potting soil and fertilizer), it was clear that suppliers in some categories are no longer making Kmart a priority: from aisle to aisle, a shopper could walk along and see areas stocked normally punctuated with huge, empty swaths that seemed to cry out for merchandise. A chain bent on survival should at least try to make it look like shelves are full. It was clear at this store that no effort was made to fill in the literal – and very visible -- gaps.
The DVD section, which has been one aisle under locked glass doors for a bit more than a year, was blocked at one end with a pyramid of boxed TV sets. It was obviously set up that way to force traffic past the electronics department sales counter, which to me screams loss control.


I have to admit I consider myself a less-than-likely potential customer for Buena Vista and Flexplay's test of the EZ-D disposable DVD disc. But while I was at the supermarket over the Independence Day weekend, I realized how the product could succeed as an impulse purchase and how it will cannibalize rentals, not sales.
I arrived at this conclusion in the produce section, of all places (does anyone else out there remember Arlo Guthrie's old rap about “Celery Consciousness”)? I had finished the rest of my shopping and realized I needed a bunch of celery. I frowned that the price was about 40 cents more per bunch than at the produce market, but the 40 cents would save me another stop. Guess where I bought the celery?
From the checkout line, I could look out the supermarket window across the intersection to Blockbuster (on a pad in front of the ill-stocked Kmart). As I stared absently across the intersection, I realized that if I were a Blockbuster customer, I would make the same substitution of an EZ-D for a rental if it saved me another stop and trip to a counter. Now, if I had a subscription that meant I would not have to shell out at all for the rental, I might make the extra stop. The moral of this story is, the closer the price of a disposable is to the price of a rental, the more likely it is to pillage rentals and succeed in the marketplace.


Last night I was watching a show on TV and started flipping during the commercials back to E! channel and its “101 Most Shocking Moments in Entertainment,” which is presented in hourlong segments of 20. I have a shocking moment for them to add: The one when I realized that Eddie Murphy getting picked up during the wee hours of a long-ago morning with a cross-dressing hooker in his car rated more shocking than a Great White club gig that accidentally left 99 people dead in a fire.
I don't know who ranked the list, but to me it was a big statement on American priorities that one celebrity misbehaving is more shocking than 99 nobodies going out for night on the town and losing their lives.

14 Jul, 2003

Do You Want Fries With That Disc?

Have you ever seen a magazine with a VHS insert?

Didn't think so.

It's been done with DVD.

Have you ever seen a cereal box with a VHS cassette shrinkwrapped to the back?

Not likely.

But Columbia TriStar did it with kids' product on disc.

DVD's compact format and cheap duplication opens up numerous distribution possibilities that suppliers are only beginning to tap. Netflix built its online rental model on DVD's compact size (it's easy to mail back and forth). Kiosks are suddenly back in vogue. A shaky niche in the clunky VHS era, the kiosk business has been rekindled with DVD as its compact shape makes the business model much more palatable.

But more is possible.

The Convex Group, a newly formed media and entertainment company, and Regal theaters have teamed to deliver a CD-ROM that fits on the top of fountain drinks sold at theater concession areas.

Couldn't it be done with DVD?

Video and theatrical promotion are already growing closer, with DVDs containing theater tickets and synchronized franchise releases, such as the recently announced Matrix Reloaded debuting on video as the final installment in the series hits theaters.

While plopping a VHS cassette on top of your fountain drink seems patently silly, it might be the ideal distribution channel for a short-form film on DVD.

It's an even more likely avenue for promotional content for DVD. No doubt, the marketing gurus are already working on it.

13 Jul, 2003

VSM Introduces New Sections

This week in Video Store Magazine we introduce some new editorial elements that build on a few other new additions we have added in the past several weeks, all of which are designed to deliver the most comprehensive news possible on the growing onslaught of new DVD product coming to the market.

As regular contributor Ralph Tribbey noted in last week's issue, through the first six months of this year the industry has released 3,943 new DVD titles into the marketplace, up 21.8 percent from the same period a year ago. That would put us on track for about 8,600 new releases on DVD this year. It's not only astounding growth, but it's happening across a broad spectrum of product.

This week we introduce a new monthly TV DVD section (see Page 18), edited by the erstwhile T.K. Arnold, editor-at-large. Perhaps no other category has experienced as much growth in new DVD releases in the past six to 12 months than programming flowing from the TV pipeline. DVD's compact format make the ability to watch popular shows by the season possible for both die-hard fans who can't get enough of their favorites and new fans looking to get caught up on the storylines. The natural cross-marketing opportunities and the new season debuts all help to feed a regular and growing appetite for TV DVD and we will keep you up-to-speed with in-depth coverage each month.

Along with TV, VSM has recently launched a couple of other new sections you may have noticed, geared to the product pipelines of music and videogames. Like TV, music DVD is also significantly accelerating in the number of titles being released each year and with the growth of surround sound systems and less expensive home theater systems, the experience of music on DVD is catching on with a growing range of consumers, of course most particularly with the bay-boom generation. Add to this mix the push to develop the DVD-Audio market and you can expect to continue to see a greater demand for music DVD. Our DVCD Music department appears monthly and is edited by Jessica Wolf.

Videogame rental and, to a much lesser extent sales, is of course, a significant and growing revenue stream for our readers and with last week's issue VSM has launched a weekly department with exclusive videogame rental data from VSM market research. Finally, being introduced this week is our new “Genre Watch” concept for covering news and product information pertaining to the most popular genres in home video. Each week on a rotating basis, we will cover one or more different genres in home video that includes both trends reporting and product news, as well as charts on the top sellers wherever possible. Along with this print coverage Video Store will also offer online a list of all titles currently in solicitation in that genre. Check out our Genre Watch feature at www.hive4media.com.

We're committed to delivering the best possible information tool for our retailer readers, be they mass merchant category buyers or owners of a single video store, and we intend to keep transforming our coverage to suit your needs. If you have any suggestions to make our coverage better, let me know.

10 Jul, 2003

Having A Packaging Breakdown

I love the great catalog stuff Warner Home Video is putting out. The Charlie Chaplin set is a gem, and the upcoming “Legends” release, with such classics as Errol Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood, Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, is certainly a must-buy in my book.

But I wonder how many DVD collectors are turned off by those flimsy cardboard cases Warner uses for virtually all of its releases? Put one up against the plastic “keep case” most of the other studios use and it's like a paperback against a hardback — one you use and toss out, the other you keep.

Now, I think I have a pretty good understanding of the Warner mentality. Even though Warren Lieberfarb is gone, the mantra there is still one of mass distribution, widespread availability and low price points. I don't like it, but I can see how using the “snapper” makes sense, particularly since it's made by one of Warner's sister companies.

But for wonderful, restored “special editions” with a list price of $20, couldn't they spend a few pennies extra and put these films in real boxes? These “Legends” are aimed at diehard movie collectors, not some teen who impulse-buys Animatrix, watches it a few times with his buds, then sells it or trades it at one of the growing fleet of used-DVD stores we're starting to see spring up all over the place.

Let me go even further in my bone-picking — which, incidentally, I hope the good folks at Warner will accept in the constructive spirit it's given — and talk about the Chaplin collection.

Warner really went to town on this one, with a screening at Cannes, a tie-in with Turner Classic Movies and all sorts of other elaborate marketing strategies.

And yet when I opened my copy of Modern Times, I found myself staring at a jumble of cracked plastic fragments. It seems Warner has come up with yet another DVD package that might be even worse that the dreaded “snapper crapper,” as it's known on the DVD chat-room circuit.

This one's cardboard on the outside and highly breakable plastic on the inside.

Come on, guys! Give me a break.

No, on second thought, don't.

8 Jul, 2003

Video Rental: A New American Revolution?

In working with executive editor Stephanie Prange on the subscription model story this week, I had a few, more abstract, thoughts about subscriptions, Netflix and the home entertainment market in general.

The overarching theme that came to me is that the rental market, which was pretty predictable for 15 or 18 years, became unpredictable along with the rest of society. In fact, the changes in the rental market are a reflection of changes in the rest of society and particularly the economy.

First, there was the Internet Economy. I'll concede that in many cases you could also call that the Big Lie.

On the other hand, it increased consumers' desire for immediate gratification, which led to "Guaranteed to Be There" and revenue-sharing to deliver on that promise. It also led to a lot of overtime and hence, I believe, to Netflix -- the anti-"guaranteed to be there."

Last week Blockbuster spokeswoman Karen Raskopf told me that only about 10 percent of Blockbuster customers want a subscription. Of course, that's based on testing in a few cities at various $20- to- $30-a-month price points. If I'd heard that from someone at Movie Gallery I'd believe it right off, because Movie Gallery stores are mostly in pay-as-you-go country. But there are a lot of Blockbuster stores in heavy-credit-debt cities.

Blockbuster's taking the same position on the self-destructing EZ-D, Buena Vista's planned four-city test: "It'll never work." That's contrary to the logic the chain applies to subscriptions. Pay-as-you-go customers will want pay-as-you-go video.

Coming from Blockbuster, given its presence in urban centers, you would think they would be more aware of how the general economy affects our home entertainment choices.

Not long ago someone said the studios work their salaried employees 50-60 hours a week. Now, how do employees in that situation know when they will have time to watch movies?

The same thing happened to computer programmers -- software engineers like Reed Hastings -- in the '90s. One of those computer geeks figured out they needed a service that caters to them and to us -- the working people who don't know what time we'll get home or when we will have two hours together to zap some zapcorn and watch a whole movie.

Has anybody looked at the national layoff/unemployment figures lately? You have two groups of people: those with too much time on their hands, and those without enough.

For the marginally or unemployed, an in-store subscription is a blessing. Unlimited entertainment, pretty cheap. Way less than the cost of cable or satellite. For the overworked employed, it lets you keep the movie you want until you have the time to enjoy it.

The subscription model that Netflix pioneered appeals to both, either for economic or temporal reasons, or both.

7 Jul, 2003

Bad Box Office Can Be Good News for Retailers

While our theatrical brethren may bemoan the flagging box office that analysts say may not be able to beat last year's record tally, there is a silver lining for video retailers.

Last year's boffo mid-summer box office hinged for the most part on two big hits – Spider-Man and Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones – not much help to retailers who need to keep a steady stream of customers coming to the store to buy or rent. This year, we've had a more even slate, with a handful of big hits that have passed the $200 million mark: The Matrix Reloaded, Finding Nemo, Bruce Almighty and X2: X-Men United. Having more hits is a good thing for video retailers.

Also, lower viewership in theaters could mean some moviegoers are waiting to watch titles on video, allowing retailers to reap the benefits theater owners missed.

Another plus, this is the summer of sequels, which allows retailers to promote the preceding hits. The Matrix and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings both rose in the all-time sales rankings long after street date on the boost from the release of theatrical sequels. Summer sequels include 2 Fast 2 Furious, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Bad Boys 2 and American Wedding.

Thus, what looks like bad box office could be good news for video retailers.

6 Jul, 2003

A Window Closing on PPV/VOD?

In the next couple of weeks, prior to the VSDA show I am told, the folks from Warner Home Video and members of the VSDA Windows Committee will have a conference call to discuss Warner's recent announcement of a VOD release of Cradle 2 the Grave that is timed 17 days after the Aug. 12 video street date for the title, rather than the more typical 45 to 60 days.

It's been reported that WHV stated this is a one-time deal, and I will not be surprised if, in fact, this turns out to be the case. There are plenty of scheduling and financial issues that have to be regulated in the management of a creative property within a mega-media company, and sometimes anomalies will happen. We'll have to wait and see what transpires in the upcoming meeting.

Be that as it may/or may not be, however, it is clear that the time frame for studios to maximize their financial return from a movie as it plays across the media delivery spectrum is being condensed. That will no doubt spill over to the VOD/PPV window.

The theatrical lifespan of a movie is growing shorter for blockbusters and small-budget genre flicks alike, though this may not necessarily be impacting ticket receipts or marketing expenses, both of which have been growing in 2003. And so, as films die off sooner in theaters its not surprising for us to start seeing more testing to shorten the window to home video to capitalize on the impact of that condensed, intense marketing campaign for the film. Much to the chagrin, of course, of theater chain executives.

As broadband penetration continues and VOD services proliferate, as digital television grows to become the norm, we should not be surprised, then, to see the traditional PPV/VOD window between home video come under some scrutiny by studios that will send up trial balloons to test the shorter window weather. Like the theatrical-to-video window, this is a numbers game.

Even with shorter PPV/VOD windows, the bigger-budget hit films will still likely do just fine at theatrical and sellthrough DVD, as consumers jump at the chance to see the film when it comes out, then follow up by collecting the features-laden DVD. But things might get more interesting on the second tier, sub-$30 million flick, destined more for the rental market. A shorter PPV/VOD window then becomes an issue for rentailers, especially considering a growing digital TV environment and the penetration of DVD recorders.

The VSDA Windows Committee will have to keep a keen eye on PPV/VOD horizon.