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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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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.


19 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Once Mor(pheus), With Feeling

I was going to leave the whole copy protection and file sharing (a la Grokster, Music City and Morpheus) debate for a while, but the last round got so many responses I just had to make a couple more points (and make sure both of my fans have the chance to chime in).

First of all NO, I don't approve of copyright infringement. As a matter of fact, I'm continually astonished at the number of people who come out hard against it, but look the other way when their kids and spouses burn discs for them. I have no such files on my computer or storage media, but clearly a lot of parents are not instilling their children with the notion that file swapping copyrighted material is a crime; they let their kids see the benefits without risks or penalties.

Even so, it's still hard for me to stomach movie executives pleading to a Senate committee to protect them from that dreaded scourge, the consumer. When the government wants to regulate a business for the public good, business wants to be left alone. When the business wants to be rescued from the public, it runs to the government for a regulation.

Studios are complaining their movies get pirated before they get into theaters. Hmmm ... let's see. I send my product to Southeast Asia (aka the knockoff capitol of the known universe) to be copied, then complain to the committee that American jobs are threatened because – Holy (Cash) Cow! – someone made copies.

If drug companies were as cavalier about their heavily invested secret formulae, we would all have died of anthrax in the water supply 20 years ago, when there was still a cold war. Why should the movie industry, whose products have nowhere near the potential to unleash a public threat, get greater protection?

Maybe copyright laws should only extend protection to products made in the good old U.S. of A. Studios could send their replication jobs overseas at their own peril and stop expecting Americans (a lot of whom are still jobless) to pay for security breaches elsewhere.

There are other, free-market approaches to protecting business interests. Like:

1) Crime is a risk-benefit proposition. A criminal weighs the risk against the reward (thankfully for us law-abiding citizens they aren't all good at it). Check out the discussion boards on tech sites. Most of the traders say if they could buy the DVD for $5 or $10, it would no longer be worth their time to file-swap. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Invisible Hand and the Law of Diminishing Returns. Maybe that's not a practical price for new releases, but it demonstrates there may be middle ground between file sharing and today's prices.

2) Make it more profitable for the programmers to work for studios than to rip them off. See Thomas K. Arnold's story on Sen. Orrin Hatch's comments at NARM for more on that approach.

3) Get insurance companies to open a new line of business for digital piracy. They already insure studios against production events that might cause the loss of an investment.

4) Scary as it is, I can buy software for $99 that will track keystrokes on my company's computers. The courts are upholding companies' right to fire people for spending too much work time getting Internet lap dances. I'm sure they would let the Mouse House chase out its rats in the same way, either for the piracy itself or for misuse of company equipment.


Take me to task or make your own suggestions about piracy prevention and copyright enforcement here. Bring it on!


19 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Despite Good Times, VOD Is Always a Specter

Analysts, who were hailing broadband, dot-com and Internet stocks not so long ago, are now taking a liking to good old video chains. The Robertson Stephens brokerage recently bestowed Hollywood Entertainment Corp. and Blockbuster with a "buy", and this week SWS Securities initiated coverage of Movie Gallery with a "strong buy."

How quickly the tables have turned.

But history has proven it's not prudent for this industry to assume it has won the analyst relations battle with video-on-demand (VOD). Yahoo this weekend queried customers about paying $2.95 for VOD movies. Battered by the technology and advertising busts, the Web industry is desperately looking for its killer app – and our business is among the top candidates.

Ah, you say, VOD has reared its ugly head many times and we've always survived. Indeed, in my first week at Video Store Magazine eight years ago the business was rocked by news of a TeleCommunications Inc.–Bell Atlantic merger designed to deliver VOD. At the time, Bell Atlantic chairman and CEO Raymond Smith declared video stores "no longer viable." Video stores came back with a vengeance after that, only to fall out of favor once again when the Internet dazzled Wall Street.

The difference in the threat this time, it seems to me, is the desperation of our rivals. Battered telecommunications companies have spent a lot of money building out broadband, PC makers are on the ropes and numerous dot-coms like Yahoo – if they have survived – are desperately looking for a way to make money. Pardon me if I'm a little paranoid.

NBC anchor Tom Brokaw moderated a discussion of technology issues, "Silicon Summit III," broadcast this weekend on MSNBC. Among the panelists were representatives from Amazon, PC-maker Gateway and AOL Time Warner. One of the issues discussed was entertainment piracy – a practice Disney chief Michael Eisner recently told a Senate committee was the tech industry's "killer app." After that showdown, panelists seemed to strike a conciliatory tone during the broadcast, admitting the industry needs to get together with content providers to find a piracy solution that doesn't involve Congress. If they're serious, this could spell trouble.

The ultimate arbiter of how movies are delivered to the home will be the consumer. If the video industry can continue to satisfy consumers better than VOD purveyors, we'll have nothing to worry about. But if our rivals ever get their act together – and the current desperate climate may speed that process – then we'll have a real fight on our hands.


16 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Wall Street Loves Video But Hates Music

For years, we've been saying the video industry is going the way of the music industry.

The record business was the first to see mass consolidation in which power became concentrated in the hands of a few big chains, while independents all but vanished.

The record business was the first to encounter the digital downloading menace (and it reacted just about as badly as one could imagine, raising rather than lowering prices for CDs when demand went south).

And the record business was the first to see its convention turn from a huge, festive trade show into a "suites" show where the spotlight is on meetings and networking rather than free T-shirts and quasi-celebrity photo-signers.

We've always looked ahead to see what the guys in music were doing, but with the music biz in sorry shape, it wasn't surprising to see the music guys looking behind them to see how we're holding up.

At the just-concluded National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) convention in San Francisco, the video industry was held up as an example of what to do - and what not to do.

As far as DVD is concerned, we've done everything right. The format was launched quickly and efficiently, with low software prices out of the gate and catalog prices tumbling to the point where even families on limited budgets are encouraged to collect DVDs and build their own movie libraries.

"We wish the record companies were as smart as the movie studios," many retailers said.

At the same time, the video industry was taken to task for allowing one retail customer - Blockbuster - to grow as big as it has. Blockbuster has a 40 percent share of the rental market, one analyst pointed out, "and that's dangerous for everyone else."

"We should be happy the record companies haven't let one customer get as big as the movie studios did," he said.

The record business certainly has its problems, and with DVD, the video industry has never looked better. One analyst even said, "Wall Street hates music but loves video." Buy ratings peppered across video-related stocks this week support that view.

And yet there's always a dark side, one we tend to overlook in this time of DVD-fueled euphoria. Thousands of independent rentailers have gone out of business over the last few years, and the top player in the rental industry is now a multi-faceted entertainment emporium that sells satellite dishes and services and is branching out into hardware.

On the dollar side, video may be looking up, but the heart and the soul of our business - the neighborhood rental store - has become homogenized and extended, the Starbucks of home video, if you will.

Food for thought.


15 Mar, 2002

WORKING WEEKEND: Dissin' in the wind

All that seemed to be missing was comic provocateur John Belushi bellowing, "food fight," then running for cover while the combatants engaged in cross-fire.

In the dustup that's been occurring the last couple weeks at Senate hearings on copy protection of entertainment properties, though, it wasn't errant undergrads at odds, but the gods of the West Coast north and south tossing off thunderbolts like so many schoolboy spitballs.

In one corner was Michael Eisner, as formidable and successful a CEO as this country has known in recent decades. Just ask Wall Street, investors and the millions of happy Disney consumers worldwide. In another corner was Andy Grove, Intel-lectual icon of Silicon Valley who's the brains behind the brains inside computers – chips that get faster by the nanosecond. With a battle royale like this, folks, who the heck needs Tonya Harding getting it on with Paula Jones.

At issue is whether the high-tech heavyweights, embodied by Grove & Co., owe protection – the copyright kind -- to the software strongholds, epitomized by Eisner and his cast of content conglomerateurs.

Basically, the content crew is fed up – and filled with fear -- over its movies and music getting intercepted and dispersed cost-free on the digital superhighway paved by the Internet, recordable PC drives and other digital media,. It wants the tech types to build adequate anti-copy circuitry into PCs, DVD players and MP3 music players to thwart even casual copiers.

"Is it the responsibility of the world at large to protect an industry whose business model is facing a strategic challenge?" groused Grove, I suspect rhetorically, in an interview with The New York Times.

Eisner, in a curious analogy, compared theft of intellectual property like Monsters, Inc. to unlocking gas pumps to let fuel run free. "Honey, want to take in a premium tonight? There's a new one at the Mobilplex I heard is a real gas." The Mouse king further claimed that because the lure of software piracy fuels demand for their machines, PC makers are not eager to create anti-copy technology.

That raises the question of whether the content creators might consider incentivizing the hardware honchos to stimulate R&D on the very anti-piracy technology they so covet. At least that kind of discussion would keep the finger-pointing and name-calling where they belong – in school.

The technologists are disingenuous to cavalierly dismiss out of hand the plausible notion that they bear some responsibility to uphold the copyright integrity of the very software that drives sales of their products. If it wasn't for Hollywood movies, how many DVD players would be in homes today? We'll take a wild guess and say about zero million.

At the same time, the entertainers are being Luddites by insisting theirs is a business model that cannot easily be changed, or is not necessary to change.

The inevitable example was invoked at the hearings of consumers wanting single songs instead of whole albums, driving the music industry to innovate its old ways to monetize the new behavior. There is no direct movie parallel for that, apart from studios producing shorts in addition to feature-length fare, which they are wise to explore in the Internet age. But it also was suggested the time has come for such possible changes as studios' posting movies on the Internet day and date with theatrical release.

Like its core product, feature-length films, Hollywood's basic business model has served it well for 100 years. Why change it now? So it has a chance of being around for another 100.

As the hearings wore on, cooler heads began to control the agenda, thanks to the measured probity of AOL Time Warner's newly anointed CEO Richard Parsons, who with Intel CEO Craig Barrett announced a forthcoming joint "statement of principles" that presumably will be the first step toward a d?tente between the hardliners on both the hardware and software fronts.


Should the government step in to enforce video piracy laws, or should the studios have to pursue civil remedies at their own expense to protect their copyrights? Tell us here.


14 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: USA Home Entertainment Dissolves: One Less Voice in the Marketplace

The news this week that Universal Studios Home Video will begin taking over distribution of USA Films home video releases and that USA Home Entertainment will be dissolved, leading to the layoff of some 20 people, was not unexpected. Since the announcement that Vivendi Universal acquired USA Networks' entertainment assets, such a merger seemed a foregone conclusion.

But I must say I kept hoping against hope the little supplier would survive, even as I regularly pressed Joe Amodei, president of USA Home Entertainment, for a signal as to his division's own fate, and he graciously and good-naturedly declined to comment each time.

The reason I say so is that I always wonder about the true impact on any entertainment industry (TV, movies, book publishing) when consolidation leads to one more small, independent provider becoming the proverbial newest notch on a media behemoth's belt. I understand that the Vivendi Universal purchase of USA's entertainment holdings for $10 billion is no small transaction and that USA Films and other properties will continue to have their brands intact. But as far as home video, there will no longer be a focused team promoting and developing USA home video product, (or at least, one would expect, not to the extent it currently enjoys).

Outside of the home video industry, the move will likely not be noticed. The brand of USA Home Entertainment would not register with most consumers. However, I would speculate that consumers and, of course, retailers will feel the result of this consolidation. I wonder how much bandwidth and focus Universal Studios Home Video has to spare not only on USA Films, but on its sports product and other special interest fare, on the limited theatrical genre/direct-to-video films it was acquiring. The NFL, NHL and NBA deals are certainly worth focusing on, but so are such diverse fare as the dance videos featuring Savion Glover, or unique items like Happy Holidays From Bing & Frank, a color reappearance of a 1957 TV special that is planned. Not to mention a host of genre films in acquisition.

As a purely practical matter the thought that, perhaps, we will not see the level of sales promotion of product that would have come out of USA Home Entertainment—not to mention maybe less product altogether—means that video stores and consumers will have that much less to retail and to rent between the hits, so to speak. It's this product that keeps the rental business going. The concern here is that any media consolidation of smaller providers into larger ones just means one less player to push new ideas and programming, one less source of energy for the industry.

I have no business case studies to support this concern. And I don't disagree that this particular consolidation may, in fact, be the right thing to do. I always, however, lament the loss of another voice in the marketplace.


12 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Whose job is it to herd Hollywood's scapegoats?

I don't download music or movies, mainly because when a friend demonstrated Napster for me a couple of years ago I found the experience slightly less rewarding than watching paint dry. I also don't want RAMpig programs cluttering my computer.

That said, I am dead set against the proposed Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA), which would require entertainment hardware and computer manufacturers to put a standardized copy protection system in all their gadgets.

My colleague Stephanie Prange argues we need such a law because people won't pay for what they can get for free, then in the same breath notes that if her acquaintances couldn't download free music off the Web, they would do without. Can somebody tell me how the music industry loses money on that?

The music industry has a substantially different beef from movie studios. Its only legitimate income is from distributing live and digitized content. When Napster was born, that content was already on the market. Movie studios, however, milk every penny from a series of release windows. Their organizational structures are built around them. And there's nothing wrong with that if it's how they want to do business. But SSSCA ignores a few key points.

For one thing, Warner's sister AOL facilitates file sharing on its Instant Messenger system and Sony subsidiaries produce movies on the one hand and home entertainment systems on the other. Both companies pit their content businesses against their delivery systems and make money on both ends. What's wrong with this picture?

I'll grant there will always be people trying to get something for nothing. Capitalism's mantra is "whatever the market will bear." A couple of hundred years ago a guy named Adam Smith, credited as one of the first economists, posited the theory of "the invisible hand." If prices get too high, the theory goes, an "invisible hand" will intervene, godlike, to bring prices down to what consumers will pay. Our economy has pretty much counted on it ever since, but this time the invisible hand is called Morpheus.

Entertainment has grown from a cottage industry to an empire in about the same time it took Rome and Great Britain to grow from tiny nations to worldwide empires. Those empires both fell because the holdings that made them fat had grown beyond the reach of their leaders' centralized control. I'm sensing a theme here.

At the recent Capitol Hill hearing on SSSCA, Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael Eisner and Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti lamented that movies are circulating on the Internet before anyone has collected one ticket fee at a movie theater.

Uh, guys, excuse me, but if those movies haven't been in theaters yet, where do you suppose the hackers are getting them? Have you started letting people onto your sets with Handycams? No, according to the U.S. Attorney's office and U.S. Customs officials, your own employees -- even some on Mahogany Row -- are supplying the pristine (Eisner's word) content the file traders trade.

If I bought a ticket to a movie and then lost it before getting into the theater, the studios wouldn't buy me another one. Why should taxpayers and consumers pay for the big tickets Hollywood loses? If they're so worried about risk and ROI, let's talk about Final Fantasy and Curse of the Jade Scorpion. The pirates aren't even watching those pricey pooches for free.

This SSSCA debate is starting to sound suspiciously like taxation without representation. Call me a rebel, but I don't want my tax dollars paying for government agents to spy on my computer activity and hunt down cats the studios have let out of the bag. It's not our responsibility to pay for their security breaches. Unless we think that's really more important than looking for trivial things like, say, terrorists and anthrax.

America was founded on mercenary capitalism and for decades the studios have made billions on it. So now, when the studios insist on wearing red coats and marching in the open in straight lines, why is it a surprise that file traders resort to guerrilla tactics?

Face it, folks, this is the New American Revolution -- and we know who won the last one.


Should the government step in to enforce video piracy laws, or should the studios have to pursue civil remedies at their own expense to protect their copyrights? Tell us here.


11 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Why Doesn't the Record Business Take a Cue From the Video Business and Offer More Bang for the Buck?

Retailers at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers convention this weekend were quick to praise DVD and the studios and heap criticism on the record companies.

The CD, they said, costs about the same as a DVD, but the DVD offers so much more -- sound, pictures and extras. This begs the question: Why not offer more with audio recordings, namely more video?

While cassettes and CDs took at hit in 2001, according to the Recording Industry Association of America -- dropping 40.8 percent and 6.4 percent in units shipped from 2000, respectively -- music DVDs as a category took off. The segment grew 139.4 percent in units shipped in the same time period, from 3.3 million units in 2000 to 7.9 million units in 2001. While the growth is impressive, it seems the record companies could be doing so much more. Heck, DreamWorks Home Entertainment sold about 8 million DVD units of the record-setter Shrek alone.

Music video has been an afterthought at record companies. It never really took off on VHS, but DVD seems much more palatable to the record-buying audience. First of all, it looks like a CD. Second, you can skip around from one song to another, like you can do with a CD. And third, the numbers speak for themselves; the category grew while the traditional packaged album forms shrank.

Record companies could offer the kind of extras prevalent on DVD movies -- interviews, bios, behind-the-scenes footage – with more of their releases. Since half the music world wants to direct or act anyway, my guess is they would probably jump at the chance. While video-on-demand is coming, it's much less accessible than audio file-sharing – the bane of the music industry over the last few years. Music videos could act as a bulwark against further erosion in that arena.

Rather than returning to the shrinking well of audio recordings, record companies might find solace in the very business their music retail customers are hailing –- video.


10 Mar, 2002

THE MORNING BUZZ: Hollywood Did Something Right

Hollywood, it appears, has finally done something right.

The tension between music retailers and record companies at the annual NARM convention in San Francisco, now underway, is as thick as cold butter.

The whole downloading mess could have been averted, angry retailers say, had record companies not stubbornly refused to even consider lower price points for CDs.

Indeed, over the last few years the suggested list prices of new releases has inched upward, from $17.98 to $18.98 and, just recently, $19.98.

Not only that, but unlike in the video industry, these prices tend to stay high as long as the CD is in print. “Repricing” is a foreign concept to record companies, except in very rare instances.

As a result, music dealers say, it's getting increasingly hard to make money in this business of selling prepackaged music. Even if you deep-discount new releases, as many retailers inevitably do, the catalog titles -- the stuff you're hoping the customer will buy once you've lured him or her into the store with the promise of picking up the latest Britney Spears album for $12 -- are still averaging close to 20 bucks a pop.

“This is the only business I can think of where new releases, which sell anyway, are discounted, while catalog titles are priced higher,” said one disgruntled record-store owner, trying to make sense of it all. “What opportunity is there for incremental sales?”

These same record retailers, who are quick to bash record companies as Evil Empires, have nothing but kind words about DVD pricing.

“Those guys knew what they were doing,” one retailer said to me last night at a cocktail party. He noted that DVDs are priced low out of the gate, effectively the same as a CD, and yet the customer gets “so much more.”

“He gets a movie that cost millions of dollars to make, not a CD some band recorded in its garage,” this retailer said. “And then there's all the extras, the interviews, the documentaries. On CDs, there's none of that.”

Music retailers also praise the studios for consistently chopping the price of catalog titles—to the point where one analyst predicted most older movies would sell for $10 or even less by the end of this year.

If the record companies would only take a cue from their video peers, the prevailing sentiment at the NARM show goes, the music industry wouldn't be in such a fix. The whole downloading revolution started, I've been constantly reminded, because consumers were sick and tired of shelling out $20 for a CD on which they may only like one or two songs. Such a risk is worth gambling $10 or $12, but $20? No way -- particularly when for pennies more, you can get a brand-spanking-new DVD of a hot new movie.

“The video guys really handled this thing right,” one record company executive confided to me. “And we've blown it so bad.”

I have to concur. My own CD buying has ground to a halt, unless I can find something I like in the “cutout,” or bargain, bins. Meanwhile, DVD prices are so attractive I keep wanting to add to my collection, even though it's already spilled into my laundry room.

Say what you will about Hollywood; with DVD, the studios have done the right thing. Our current system of DVD pricing couldn't be more ideal to grow, nurture and develop a fan base for a new format. Thank God, no one's talking about changing that—at least, not openly.


8 Mar, 2002

WORKING WEEKEND: Broadband Takes the ‘Sub' Way

Remember the membership fees charged by video rentailers? They're back. This time they're subscriptions, and they are the preferred business model for the technology that hovers like a dark cloud over packaged media.

Broadband, anyone?

It's not just broadband. Take Netflix, the online DVD rental service that is ready for its close-up with a newly-minted initial public offering to raise more than $100 million. Netflix "members" pay a flat rate of $19.95 a month for all-you-can-rent as long as no more than three titles are out at any one time.

Everywhere you look online, there's the "s" word, for subscription. TiVo, the digital video recorder company, is hiking its rate $3 to $12.95 a month ($250 for a lifetime sub) and has tallied 380,000 subscribers at the $9.95 rate, with another quarter-million subs projected by January 2003.

Sony, about to make a play for online gaming via PlayStation2, already has seen the power of a subscription model with its EverQuest online role-playing game for PCs. It's reported that 400,000 subscribers pay $10 monthly to play EverQuest whenever they want.

Director David Lynch -- the mastermind behind Eraserhead, Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks -- just launched his own Web site with the disclaimer that because it is sans advertising he has no choice but to charge, what else? 10 bucks a month. Is there a pattern here?

You can decide for yourself if this Web site is compelling enough to attract a Lynch mob (of, say, 400,000 or so), by clicking on davidlynch.com.

Having paid a cursor-y visit myself to the Lynch burg in cyberspace, it's hard to say if it's worth a tenspot every 30 days without actually signing up, which I declined to do for now. What's easier to say is it offers further evidence that ambitious online entertainment like this must be experienced on a high-speed Internet broadband connection, unless you are a retiree with infinite patience who thinks waiting for slow downloads is more fun than watching water boil. One way to describe the difference experiencing the Internet with a phone modem versus broadband is "trickle or treat."

If you're wondering whether the recurring talk of broadband breaking through "this year" is a remake of the video-on-demand perennial predictions, it's not.

Because the Internet has become a quality-of-life staple for the masses, and because broadband brings a quantum upgrade in that quality, high-speed digital connections are quickly replacing dial-up modems.

Nielsen/NetRatings just announced that January 2002 was the first month broadband usage – at 1.2 billion hours – accounted for more than half of all time spent online. It was a 64 percent increase from the 727 million broadband hours counted in January 2001, which was 38 percent of all online time that month.

"Broadband usage has hit mainstream," reads the sound bite served up by Nielsen.

Maybe so, but I just had a field day with another brand of broadband -- 20th Century Fox's DVD of Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, hitting the street this Tuesday. The group-grope commentary track is rather rambunctious but fun, with one participant even suggesting at the end they go back and re-record the commentary for the first few scenes, when they were still nervous. Luhrmann nixes that idea.

Plus, there are "galleries" from the director, cinematographer and designers; two music videos; script-to-screen excerpts; and interviews. Oh, yeah, and the movie is real cool, too. Put all that in your Internet pipe and smoke it.