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.
We have a cartoon running in an upcoming issue of Video Store Magazine in which a rentailer asks a customer what's wrong with his hands and the customer says he's injured with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) from playing video games.
I suffer with CTS so guess I'm the only person who doesn't think it's funny. But you want to know why it isn't funny? Check out the instructions that come with video game consoles. Down in a corner in teeny, tiny print is a warning not to play them for extended periods of time without a break.
That notice is on there because the manufacturers know that players can get repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) from too much repetition of the same motion, including on any video game or computer.
It may not have come to your personal attention yet, but since video retailers surveyed for this year's Top 100 survey anticipate their video game rentals to rise significantly in 2002, it behooves you to understand this malady.
As video games and even educational software have trickled downward to precocious children, kids are starting to show up at school with repetitive strain injuries. Your first instinct may be to say kids are just trying to get out of doing work, but these injuries often limit their playing, too.
Researchers at a prominent University back east have only recently begun to examine such injuries in very small children, but their research grew, in a large part, from noticing that more and more college students had to have note-takers attend classes with them because their hands or arms were out of commission from RSIs.
There are lots of ways to get RSIs. I have one friend who got tendinitis pulling deep-rooted weeds and another friend I met when he was retraining for a new career after spending most of his then-30-year life playing bass in orchestras. Lifting too much weight or doing it improperly is a sure path to a back injury eventually, if not right away.
Ailments like CTS and tendinitis are insidious because there are no outward signs even though they can be very painful and in some cases career-ending. Businesses, by and large, want to believe they don't exist because they would have to redesign some tasks to prevent them. Recently the Supreme Court bowed to that pressure and disallowed RSIs from coverage under the Americans With Disabilities Act, despite a reported 600,000-plus cases a year (the bulk of those, by the way, are back injuries).
Nobody has to develop an RSI. I manage mine with task variation (as important as it is simple) and a few pieces of special equipment and adjustments to ordinary equipment (i.e. chair position) that help me do my job.
Youngsters who do much computing should have desks and chairs appropriate to their size. Parents should teach them good keying posture and not let them sit at the computer or play video games for hours on end.
It's not up to rentailers to be the RSI police for customers, but they should be aware that CTS can result from too much computer time, including video games. If a mother complains her child is developing forearm or wrist aches during or after gameplay, rentailers should be prepared to at least point them to the manufacturer warnings. After all, when was the last time you saw a kid read the instructions before playing with a PS2, GameCube or Xbox?
None of the equipment is inherently evil, but like everything else about technology we have to be careful how we use it. It would be a shame if the generation we're raising on technology was too injured to use it by the time they leave home.
By: Holly J. Wagner
Last week's finish to our 2002 pricing series, "VHS: Flat Pricing the Elixir for Longer Life?," got several retail responses.
As might be expected, retailers are in support of anything that lowers their costs and they'd like those costs to be as little as possible.
But perhaps the most ominous comment -- and one studios should heed -- was the account of one retailer's decision to drop VHS altogether and go only with DVD. The move was profitable, he noted, and set him apart. Another retailer said he had not yet done it, but planned to go all DVD. And yet another said that if he can't get a good price on cassettes from a particular studio, he'll just use the money to buy more DVDs and skip purchasing VHS copies.
Retailers seem to be sending a clear message, and the studios have begun to listen. Some have gone to flat pricing on VHS (notably MGM Home Entertainment, which pioneered the practice), and Warner Home Video has tested sellthrough pricing on traditional VHS rental fare. But indications are the studios may not be moving fast enough.
As one of my esteemed colleagues commented, "With the price of some VHS tapes, it's in the interest of retailers to buy their customers a $79 DVD player."
As quickly as the tables turned in favor of the big chains during the recent copy-depth and revenue-sharing surge, they seem to be turning again -- this time in favor of the independents. The flat sellthrough pricing of DVDs makes converting rapidly to the format a no-brainer for the indies.
Chuck Grachan, owner of 22-store JC Flicks in Joliet, Ill., interviewed for our VHS versus DVD space story mentioned that he hadn't yet broken even on some VHS titles released in November and December -- and these were big ‘A' titles.
"At this stage for VHS, it's managing risk," he told Video Store Magazine.
It seems some retailers are finding the risk of buying expensive VHS tapes is too much. They need some incentive to keep the format alive.
Another factor forcing retailers' move to DVD is sheer space. Rentailers are finding it increasingly difficult to balance floor space allocated to DVD and VHS cassettes. If a store has already weeded out most of its VHS catalog, purchases of VHS copies of new releases are the next obvious category to pare down -- unless the studios make it worth their while, through low pricing, to keep the format alive.
It's becoming increasingly clear that the time is now for studios to decide whether they want to keep the VHS market around. It seems the ball is in the studios' court.
By: Stephanie Prange
We keep hearing that the home entertainment pie is getting bigger as more and more people add, rather than replace, entertainment viewing options in their home. I've got a story to tell that won't show up on the radar of any market research or polling apparatus, but illustrates the truth in this theory better than anything I've seen, heard or read.
I belong to the local YMCA's Indian Guides program, in which fathers and their sons camp together with other fathers and their sons. Great for bonding -- between father and son and then, after the little tyrants have gone off to a Motrin-induced sleep, among dads.
One of my compadres is a doctor, a general practitioner. He belongs to a medical group and is comfortable but not wealthy the way some specialists are.
Dr. Mark last summer was caught up in the media craze about DVD and bought a player for just over $200. One of the first discs he bought was the boxed set of "The Sopranos," a program he had heard much about but had never seen because he didn't subscribe to HBO.
He was immediately smitten, finished Season One and in November bought Season Two the day it came out. Inside one of the boxed set was a subscription coupon for HBO. He filled it out and sent it in, primarily because he wanted to watch Season Three, which was already under way.
He figured he'd save a little money watching movies on HBO instead of renting DVDs, but the opposite happened. A medical man's schedule doesn't really fit in with the rigors of cable; he'd catch the beginning of a movie here, the tail end there and end up renting it to see what he'd missed. End result: He went from renting three or four movies a month to five or six-not a big jump, but definitely an increase.
Meanwhile, while buying some diet bars at Wal-Mart, he happened by one of the discount chain's many recently erected DVD bargain bins. He bought Artisan's Young Guns for $7.44 and, after scanning the racks of bargain-priced catalog titles from Warner, MGM and Columbia TriStar, he vowed to return soon when he had more time. He did. He bought. He's still buying-his DVD collection now stands at roughly two dozen titles, all but one or two of them purchased for less than $15 at Wal-Mart. Before he got his DVD player, Dr. Mark confesses, he didn't buy any movies for himself-just for his kids.
Does he have time for HBO? Not much, but he's not about to cancel his subscription. "The Sopranos" is still on the air and he's also gotten hooked on another HBO series, "Six Feet Under," that he's talking up to all his friends.
Dr. Mark can't wait for "Six Feet Under" to start coming out on DVD (there's already a hip remix of the theme song on radio) so he can catch up on all the shows he's missed. In the meantime, at least one other Indian Guides dad, after hearing Dr. Mark's enthusiasm about the black comedy, says he's going to subscribe to HBO.
He's already got a subscription blank. It came with his "Sopranos" DVD boxed set.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
One reason for DVD's popularity with the general populace is its simplicity. Yeah, we know all about the (fade in on stentorian-voiced announcer) "superior picture and sound quality," but believe me, that's only the half of it.
Equally responsible, if not moreso, for the hockey-stick growth curve on which DVD is gliding along, is its unitized compactness, especially compared with the cranky collection of moving parts inside a videocassette -- (okay, so the 5-inch platter does spin, but a future iteration of DVD resides in a no-spin zone, where the laser moves, but the disc doesn't.)
Yet, impressive as it is, DVD's skill set is still a few cards short of a full deck, namely in its lack of user-recording capability. Soon enough, though, even that shortcoming will be gone. Recordable DVD is getting ready for its close-up, and, following the lead of the play-only older generation, its simplicity is simply breathtaking.
The industry's various architects of DVD have gotten together and determined there should be as many DVD recording formats as there are major Hollywood studios – or so it seems.
To keep it simple, each of the recordable DVD configurations has been given a slightly different designation.
With technical descriptions provided by my friends at Maxell, a leading maker of recording media, here's the rundown:
The seminal format is, of course, old reliable but nonrecordable DVD Video. Then there's DVD-R, "a write-once version of DVD upon which content may be recorded only one time." It uses a dye that, once altered (or burned), cannot be changed again. Fair enough. And simple to comprehend.
Next up is DVD-RAM, "a rewritable version of DVD upon which content can be recorded more than once, as many as 100,000 times, on nine internal recording surfaces. Used for audio/video and computer applications, data is recorded randomly on the disc. It is playable in some computer DVD drives and set-top players." Okaaaay. We guess that means the data is not recorded in a serial, linear fashion -- we guess. Hold that thought.
Let's not forget about DVD-RW, "a rerecordable/erasable DVD standard Pioneer developed for audio/video data applications that lets users record data sequentially to the disc, over 1000 times, on three internal recording surfaces. It is playable in many computer DVD drives and set-top players." Now, we're getting somewhere. RAM is random (as in Random Access Memory), RW is sequential, or serial, as we surmised above. Score one gigabyte for logical deduction.
What's this, now? You say there's also something called DVD+RW? We'll bite. Turns out it's very similar to DVD-RW, only different enough not to be recognized by the DVD Forum, an official standard-setting body with more than 200 members that include major hardware and software makers of DVD goods and services. DVD+RW is supported by Hewlett-Packard (HP), Philips and others, and is, of course, playable on many computer DVD drives and set-tops." The companies behind DVD+RW are planning to introduce DVD+R, a write-once version, a la DVD-R.
Unlike the dye used in DVD-R, the above three rewritable/erasable formats use a metal alloy called phase-change that allows rerecording. However, while the write-once DVD-Rs are said to last 40 to 250 years after recording, the less durable rewritable DVDs will conk out after a mere 25 to100 years. What wimps.
There are things recordable DVD won't let you do. Such as experience full interoperability. DVD-R will play on all other types of DVD drives, while DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD + RW will not play on all of each other's drives.
So, where is all this leading? Not so fast. Maxell estimates there are some 650,000 recordable DVD drives in the U.S. at this time, virtually all inside PCs. In 2002, it projects another 1.5 million recordable DVD drives being shipped, 60% to 70% in PCs, the rest in set-top DVD recorders from names like Panasonic and Philips.
And DVD continues to wend its way into every conceivable entertainment device, the latest host being a camcorder made by Hitachi that uses mini-DVDs (8cm, or about 3.5 inches, versus the 12cm, or 5-in. diameter of a full-size DVD) to record 30 to 60 minutes, and will play in many brands of set-top DVD players. Next up are mini DVD-Rs for camera recording. I'm surprised Hitachi doesn't just call its DVD camera a RAMcorder.
Of course, the big question for DVD Video suppliers and retailers -- and copyright-agnostic consumers -- is whether DVD movies can be copied to DVD-Rs, RAMs and all that other stuff. According to Maxell, that's a negative, "due to sophisticated copy protection methods."
Well, due to sophisticated code crackers such as the notorious SmartRipper, DVD movies have been copied to hard drives, burned to recordable DVDs and transmitted on the Internet. But that's a truckload of worms we'll save for another day.
By: Bruce Apar
I'm not one to keep pounding on an issue when everyone else has moved on, but my column last Friday in this space regarding flat pricing of VHS garnered a lot of response that paints a picture of the mood of the retailer market, and I thought I'd share some of it with you.
The point of the column was that the meteoric rise of DVD is compelling studios to begin seriously moving toward a flat pricing scheme (and lowering the price as well) for VHS rental product as a way to keep the format alive and kicking in this looming DVD age. The question I posed was, how would flat pricing affect your buying patterns?
Tom Paine of Video Factory/Moviola Video in Redmond, Wash., notes he'll take advantage of the move to improve copy depth for VHS, but unless prices go real low, it still won't be enough to slow the DVD train.
"From the beginning I have been holding margins constant between the two formats. The advantage has been more copy depth with DVD. I believe this notable difference in copy depth has helped encourage the transition with our customers. At the same time, I am holding firm on margins with VHS. This means that VHS customers are being served the same way they have always been. As VHS prices come down, I will continue to hold to the dollar margin percentage. This implies improved copy depth for VHS. Copy depth means more revenue and consequently more gross margin. However, with these principles in mind, at $25 to $30, VHS still will not have the same copy depth as DVD. The advantage is still with DVD, but not to the extent as in the past."
Peter Mathieson of Movie Experts in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, said that until copy depth programs and other minimum buy formulas are reduced, there is still only so much money open to buy additional titles.
"Flat pricing on par for every title allows stores to distribute their budgets appropriately and satisfy demand for lesser known titles that formulas force them to either pass on or buy low on. The studios, in essence, do not gain any additional funds, at least in the short term…Over time, however, greater quantities and variety for consumers, coupled with knowledgeable staff and store owners that can recommend these lesser known titles, should logically improve the rental market. Thus, the logical answer is that the faster we see a move to lower (sellthrough) VHS pricing, the greater the chance of saving the VHS rental market as well as capitalize on the increased consumer demand to own the product by offering more variety at sellthrough at the same time."
An unidentified respondent from Dave's Movies & More in Granite City, Ill., said that the move to flat pricing, "Most definitely would increase copy depth. At this stage, paying more than $30 per copy in depth is suicide! Warner is on the right track and we will support them in depth on both formats."
Tom Hannah of Joliet, Ill.-based Video Quest made no secret of his stance, as he always does.
"They should have gone to flat pricing and lower prices two years ago. At this point I could not care less what those greedy studios do. I have begun to phase out of VHS and no matter what, I am going 100 percent DVD in the near future."
In October of last year that's just what Jack Uniglicht at Double Features, Vineland, NJ, said he did. In business since 1981, it was a bold move, but Uniglicht said financially, VHS rental pricing made no sense any longer in light of DVD. He's never looked back after the move and has enjoyed considerable success. However, he'd reconsider VHS, if the price were right.
"For every old-time customer that we lost because they were not ready to get a new DVD player, we picked up 10 new customers who were ‘tech savvy.' Our rental revenue has increase every month since October after years of decline and we are able to sell the previewed DVDs at a bare minimum of $10 each well after the 30-day window for rentals…Personally, I have nothing against VHS movies, so if the studios dropped ALL titles to $20 and under wholesale, I would bring them back." But Uniglicht said he doesn't believe that's likely to happen, and he added that "The VHS movie is now history and…will soon go the way of the 8-track."
It's clear from these responses that the home video retailing business is in for quite a transition over the next several years.
Want to weigh in with your thoughts? Click here to read these and other responses and add your own.
By: Kurt Indvik
While this year's Super Bowl was more exciting than most, I must confess I often watch the commercials with more interest. The expensive ad time often results in spots that rival movies (Who can forget the famous 1984 Big Brother Apple Macintosh commercial?).
This year mostly saw a return to the beer ad fare long a staple of the Super Bowl. Gone for the most part was the dot-com onslaught of years past. While the pets.com sock puppet and other curiosities of the e-commerce insanity are gone, it's somewhat reassuring to see good old Blockbuster -- that bastion of packaged media -- in the spotlight again. The No. 1 chain took the opportunity to launch its own spokescritters, an animated rabbit and guinea pig voiced by stars Jim Belushi and James Woods.
I know. I know. Praising Blockbuster is tantamount to heresy among many in video retailing. But I for one find it somewhat comforting to see our business -- albeit via the much-pilloried top dog – still firmly in the ad game. Absent a national video advertising campaign, Blockbuster's national spots are the next best thing. They keep packaged media in the public eye, and I'm sure that awareness must spill over to others in the business.
Blockbuster cancelled its awards show this year, and I began to wonder if the chain would continue to lead the video charge as vigorously as in years past. Thus, it's nice to see the Blockbuster spokescritters are here, while the sock puppet, along with its site pets.com, is long gone.
By: Stephanie Prange
Years ago, when "Saturday Night Live" was at its peak, there was a skit about an annoying character who just wouldn't go away, bothering a hapless couple until the wee hours of the morning and leeching everything he could take off them-chips, soft drinks, even their bed.
The Thing That Wouldn't Leave, they called him. And that pretty well sums up my feelings toward last week's surprise resurrection of digital videotape, which first reared its ugly head back in the middle 1990s and is now all of a sudden emboldened by the software support of four major studios.
Let me state, unequivocally, that I share the sentiments of my old friend Russ Solomon, founder of the venerable Tower Records and Video chain, in that I consider tape to be an imperfect medium, a means to an end. In audio circles, tape survived and even thrived through various incarnations-reel-to-reel, 8-track, cassette-until the arrival of the compact disc triggered a slow but steady death march. Forget the flawed vinyl LP-optical media had reached its state of the art, and tape was no longer necessary.
In home entertainment, we've seen a very similar scenario. We have seen the brief ascent of Beta, quickly toppled in a graceless coup by the coarser VHS, which now after a 20-year reign is on its way out thanks to our own state-of-the-art optical media, DVD. In the meantime we witnessed a brief challenge by the laserdisc, which like the vinyl LP was fatally flawed by overriding limitations-among them, a lack of recordability and an ungainly size. In fact, I still believe that the 12-inch laserdisc was doomed primarily due to timing: it was introduced at the very same time that another 12-inch disc, the vinyl LP, in very similar packaging, was being herded out to pasture by that sexy little 5-incher called the CD.
But I digress. The advent of the DVD, particularly now with the recordability factor rapidly coming into affordable play, makes videotape all but obsolete. It's an anachronism; my wife even took a passing look at our dwindling collection of VHS tapes and, with a sneer, informed me, "They look like 8-tracks."
That said, I have to wonder why four major studios are backing D-VHS, this spruced-up version of a clearly outdated technology. On the one hand, the reasons are clear: professional jealousy (Columbia TriStar and Warner each hold patents on DVD, which means they get a portion, albeit a very small portion, of every disc sold by their competitors) and the potential to generate incremental revenues by selling their movies to HDTV diehards who bought their fancy home theater systems just a tad early (HDTV won't be the broadcast standard for another four years).
But in my humble opinion, what's happening here is something along the lines of cutting off your nose to spite your face. The potential risks far outweigh the likely rewards. Introducing a new digital format at a time when the public is rapidly embracing another (DVD) could cause massive confusion in the marketplace, particularly since D-VHS' primary selling point appears to be that it's even better than DVD, and that DVD won't be this good until the so-called "blue-light" standard arrives sometime in the future.
Then again, maybe my worries are groundless. The DVD steamroller is so strong, so powerful, that nothing can stand in its way. Perhaps the American public is smart enough to realize that D-VHS is just another ill-fated roadblock, sort of like Divx, and is destined to fail.
Let's hope so. Let's hope and pray for the end of tape. It's time has come.
Will studio support for D-VHS confuse consumers? Will it undermine DVD? Tell us here!
By: Thomas K. Arnold
The Exclusive Roundtable on Growth, Value and Balance Priorities for 2002 conducted online by Video Store Magazine's Thomas K. Arnold (star of page and screen) and conceived by editor-in-chief Kurt Indvik has the industry buzzing, and no wonder. It was an admirable effort to bring together a representative cross-section of suppliers, wholesalers and retailers to dig into the top-line issues of the day.
I say all of this with complete objectivity, which is another way of saying I was not invited to participate in the roundtable, and for good reason. Nobody else would've gotten a word in edgewise. But I have my ways, and this column is one of ‘em.
So, I have edited myself into the roundtable discussion, and present some excerpts herewith …
Are we seeing a change in consumer habits when it comes to home entertainment? Are consumers more likely to buy and collect movies now that almost everything is coming out on DVD at a sellthrough price, instead of being released first to the rental channel?
Joe Malugen, CEO, Movie Gallery: It is unclear if consumer habits are changing. We still are in the early adoption stage of DVD, and it is hard to predict if these buyers' habits will be reflected by later adopters.
Steven Scavelli, president, Flash Distributors: I don't believe we are seeing a change in consumer habits. I believe we are seeing the consumer take advantage of a new and better technology, at an affordable price.
Bruce Apar, roundtable busboy: I don't own a chain of rental stores like you do, Joe, or a rental-based wholesale business like my friend and fellow Yankees fan Steve, so all I know is what I learn with my own two eyes and ears. DVD home libraries are being much more rapidly built than was the case for VHS in its first five years of existence. Better technology at an affordable price has an uncanny way of influencing consumer shopping and usage patterns (Internet, anyone?) but don't get me right; it's not for me to say whether consumer habits are changing. I'll leave that brainteaser to those who have a vested interest in not seeing them change too much.
Are DVD sales to rental dealers cannibalizing sales of rental-priced cassettes and, if so, what are studios doing to even the score?
Mick Blanken, owner, SuperHitz Video, Delaware: At the point where DVD hardware penetration reaches or exceeds 50 percent, I believe the studios will more aggressively attempt to find ways to increase their revenue on a title. Historically, that means that either prices will go up or revenue-sharing will be more of a focus -- or both.
Apar: Well, Mick, I stubbornly hold to the belief that, even on DVD, prices will go down as volume goes up, and that revenue growth will come not from per-unit price hikes, but from tonnage per title due to increased market penetration of DVD drives. The studios can't ignore rental demand, but that doesn't mean they want to help stoke it. DVD rentals will have to compete with downward pricing pressure from mass merchants selling the same DVD titles day-and-date. That was never the case with new release VHS titles. But don't get me wrong; none of this will have any effect on consumer habits changing.
Scavelli: First, there are different levels and types of consumers, and, second, the DVD buyer and the VHS renter are often from different classes of consumers.
Apar: Compelling point, Steve, that begs for supporting statistics. (Maybe at the next roundtable.) Still, as market penetration of DVD, now at 25 percent of U.S. homes, continues to grow, it's plausible to assume the difference between VHS and DVD consumers will become less distinct.
John Thrasher, VP, Tower Records + Video: I see the rental segment of our business slowly declining over the next five years. … One only has to look at the audio business to see what mass resistance to higher prices could mean: declining sales and a business in constant turmoil from both the creative and financial sides of the ledger.
Apar: I don't work for a major sellthrough chain of movies and music that over the past few years has reduced its exposure to the video rental market, but I see John's point about the rental business declining, even if it's slowly. It'd be hard at this point for anybody to argue it's going to grow in the face of a proliferation of other entertainment and information options. As for the audio analogy, I have a strong sense that statement did not get printed the way John intended it.
Do you see any significant changes to the current DVD model in the way of special features and other programming?
Blanken: But the question is, will revenues increase enough to justify the additional cost of producing these additional features? The bonus features offered to date have been relatively easy to produce (albeit at an added cost). Anyone who dedicates dollars to creating additional features and capabilities should do so only after accepting the fact that it will likely take two or three years for interest to develop.
Apar: Mick, your first question is a key one I've yet to see any studio address, at least in public. We can only assume since the extras seem to be coming hot and heavy, the labels are wary of stopping them for fear the DVD consumer will feel cheated on the price/value ratio. I'd really love to hear the studios' reaction to your assumption that bonus features are easy to produce. In some cases, maybe, where the Special Features section on the menu contains trailers for other product. That's cheesy.
Malugen: We may see a plain vanilla DVD come out with the special feature DVD coming out weeks later at a lower price. That would seem to make sense for studios.
Will 2002 be the year video-on-demand establishes itself as a viable alternative to video rental?
Apar: Like Joe, I also see plain vanilla digital video as a viable release configuration, as in VOD: vanilla on demand. When it comes to VOD, it's like Butch Cassidy screenwriter William Goldman famously wrote in a book about Hollywood: "Nobody knows anything."
By: Bruce Apar
In next week's Video Store Magazine we take a look at what the studios are going to be trying this year with regards to pricing VHS rental product in the face of DVD's continual triple-digit growth in rental revenues. Because despite DVD's climb up the sales charts (with a bullet), we are most definitely a dual-personality (platform) industry during the transition.
DVD may be the fastest-growing consumer electronics product in history, but consider that VHS players are in some 90 million homes in the U.S. and in 2001, according to Video Store Magazine market research, VHS accounted for more than 68 percent of all home video sales and rentals, and about 79 percent of all rental revenues. It's quite a tightrope the industry will be walking this year.
The balancing act in 2002 will be maintained by studios as they experiment with flat pricing on VHS rental product, distancing themselves with copy-depth programs that are noticeably being phased out. No one wants a two-format scenario to last forever and DVD pricing and content value is the clear format winner. The point is how to thrive in the interim, however long that is. Thus, the current dual platform reality is forcing the studios to move toward a lower flat-price scenario for VHS to shore up continued retailer support on the rental side. Some executives interviewed for the article this week speculate the average VHS rental price could go as low as $25 to $30 for ‘A' titles.
That's a good thing for retailers who must serve customers, who are caught up in the struggle as well. Walk into any video store and you can almost feel the growing racks of DVD glacially pushing to move VHS out of the way. But it won't be so easy. Like many customers I see in the stores, I have to wander from DVD (for my wife and I) to VHS (for the kids upstairs) dealing with the same conundrum as everyone else – at least until I get my second DVD player. I need both DVD and VHS.
What impact flat pricing VHS rental product may have on DVD will be interesting to watch. For the sake of speculation, let's say rentailers will not necessarily use the lower VHS pricing to expand copy depth, but to exact better margins on any given title. Given that possible trend, should we anticipate a slowdown on the percentage of DVD to VHS bought on a given title (that is, they will buy a few more VHS, a few less DVD than they would have before flat pricing)? I'd be curious to hear from some retailers as to how they would respond to a flat pricing scenario for VHS rental product.
How would flat-priced VHS rental product affect your buying patterns? Tell us here!
By: Kurt Indvik
A tech article in The Los Angeles Times lately lamented that if you play mainly full-screen programs on a widescreen television set, you'll end up burning the side margins of the screen, the way computer screens got permanent software images burned into them before the advent of screen savers.
Then we got a letter this week from Tom Hannah at Video Quest in Joliet, Ill., about the dilemma studios face in deciding whether to release videos in widescreen or full frame.
"In my opinion the whole full screen vs. widescreen issue is now dead. Even the cheapest DVD players …now have the zoom feature," he wrote. "A couple clicks on the zoom button and that widescreen DVD is now full-screen. I seldom hear customer complaints about widescreen any more. If the machine manufacturers had put this on from the beginning this issue would have never come up."
I think among mainstream consumers, the debate is only beginning. There is a move afoot to offer more products and programs in widescreen. The transmission and hardware trends are rapidly catching up to the software offerings.
Anyone who doesn't think so need only tune in to the Super Bowl this weekend, because Fox just announced today that "Fox Sports will televise the Super Bowl…in a sweeping new 16 x 9 digital widescreen panorama called Fox Widescreen, a format that takes full advantage of the horizontal playing field to give fans an unmatched view of the game."
Last weekend I accidentally shifted the guide button on my remote control from my menu of preferred channels to the "all channels" option and noticed that my satellite provider, DirectTV, offers pay-per-view movies simultaneously in both formats on different channels, so viewers can order to suit themselves (a great way to quantify consumer preference, by the way).
UPN broadcasts the latest Star Trek spinoff, "Enterprise," in widescreen format and Best Buy ads, probably in a subtle wink to early adopters, are formatted in widescreen.
Recently hardware makers have been promoting widescreen television sets to the masses who just a few years ago could not afford widescreen even if they'd wanted it. Many home theater-in-a-box systems come equipped with wide screens. But from a hardware standpoint, I think the real breakthrough is space.
The propellerheads have a term that applies, in this context, to square TVs: "legacy technology." Essentially that means you inherited a system promulgated because it fit with everything else that was available when it was sold or installed, like square TVs. Back when television was a newfangled gadget and sets were roughly the size of present day refrigerators, TVs were square because of the components and, I suspect, because a widescreen cathode tube TV would have been about the size of a school bus. Not especially practical for living room entertainment.
As the price of liquid crystal display (LCD) screens continues to come down, wide screen becomes increasingly more practical and affordable. Consumers can mount the screens on den walls, where they might have otherwise have hung the family's velvet Elvis, without giving up the space that makes the room a "living" area.
With these and other developments, I think the debate over full-frame vs. widescreen is far from over. For a lot of consumers, the whole issue is brand-spanking-new.
By: Holly J. Wagner