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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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17 Aug, 2003

Back Next Week

Kurt Indvik has been out on vacation. His column will return next week.

15 Aug, 2003

Greetings from Sunsplash!

Thomas K. Arnold is taking a much-needed rest after attending Sunsplash. He'll be back soon with plenty of keen insights to share.

12 Aug, 2003

Crawling Through Hollywood

It took nearly 100 years, but I think they have finally come up with the most annoying device in broadcast history.

I'm referring to the station ID bugs, banners, crawlers and other animated graphics that networks now feel compelled to stamp into the corner of the TV screen over every broadcast. It's the TV equivalent of interminable pop-up ads on the Web.

By far the most intrusive one I've seen yet is the helicopter on TNN, announcing the impending change of identity to Spike TV. It's a yellow-green helicopter that rises from the bottom of the screen, crosses about a third of the way up and swings a searchlight around to show a drive-in movie type screen, also about a third of the screen height, with the message on it.

Thank the TV gods the only stuff I watch on this channel is coming out on disc. I can barely tolerate an episode of the once-enjoyable “Highlander” series on TV because of an ugly, oversized graphic that obscures everything from swordplay to hot romantic scenes. Not to mention the absurd contrast of a police chopper flying across a screen that's playing out a scene recalled from the Scottish highlands of the 17th or 18th Century.

This may be how Hollywood's battle to squash Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) like TiVo and Replay TV backfires in a big way, to the benefit of packaged video dealers. Because like Web pop-ups, once you know a site will feed you a bunch of them, you find other places to get what you want sans the clutter.

I'm sure the reason we all have to endure those in-your-face TV graphics is because the networks are terrified of a few hundred thousand ad-skippers. Since they skip over the promos, the networks have to force-feed their messages to all of us from every nook and cranny of the screen during the program.

That hideous TNN helicopter is enough to send me scurrying for Anchor Bay's “Highlander” boxed sets (just the first two seasons are yet available) and Paramount's “CSI” set (season one is out, season two streets Sept.2).

In case you aren't listening, network programmers, that means I'm not only skipping your ads, I'm skipping your programming as well.

It used to be something you heard only when a group of friends was deciding what movie to see in a theater. But at this rate, the new TV series mantra will have that familiar ring: “I'll wait for it to come out on video.”

11 Aug, 2003

Watch Out for Disney's Holiday Tidal Wave

Many are talking about Disney's winning summer with Pixar's Finding Nemo and the Johnny Depp actioner Pirates of the Caribbean, which have helped make the Hollywood studio the first to hit the $1 billion mark at the box office. The Mouse House also may be looking at one of its best fourth quarters ever with the DVD and VHS release of Nemo and the highly anticipated The Lion King Special Edition, among other titles.

The Lion King, the longtime record holder as the top-selling video of all time with 25 million units sold, just might see its record fall to Nemo this fourth quarter – in a curious case of Disney competing with itself. Buena Vista Home Entertainment SVP of brand marketing Gordon Ho noted that the titles have been separated by a “whole month” – The Lion King streets Oct. 7, Nemo Nov. 4 -- and are designed to promote rather than cannibalize each other's sales.

Still, with DVD player households reaching 50 million, the little fish has a fighting chance at taking the record.

Boosted by this menagerie, Disney can look forward to quite a quarter, especially if Pirates of the Caribbean falls into the December time frame as many expect it might. And don't forget about the critical favorite Holes, which comes out Sept. 23 just before the fourth quarter holiday rush.

Every studio has its great years, and this year seems to be golden for Disney. Whether the Mouse roars or swims to success, it's certainly got the goods this holiday season.

8 Aug, 2003

Ready for an Overheated Holiday?

According to Video Store Magazine market research, we're going to see upwards of $2.5 billion in major theatrical box office power hitting the video shelves this fourth quarter.

To heck with holding anything back for the so-called “fifth quarter” post-holiday sales period when new owners of shiny DVD players are looking for something exciting to watch. Last year's early first quarter releases included such hits as Signs ($228 million), The Bourne Identity ($121 million), Sweet Home Alabama ($127 million), and My Big Fat Greek Wedding ($241 million), and totaled about $1.4 billion in box office punch.

To date for Q1 2004 we have about $246 million lined up so far in box office hits in January (based on receipts as of Aug. 3), including Bad Boys 2, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, and Johnny English, to name some which have either announced dates, or which are VSM estimated release dates. Certainly that list will grow, but it's apparent it isn't going to come close to last year's line up.

What's changed in a year? Well, check out the cover article in this week's VSM, penned by Thomas K. Arnold for some studio and retailer exec insights. There is also a chart showing what's on the way for fourth quarter.

The bottom line is that home video is becoming such a major component of studios revenues, and the audience for DVD has reached such proportions, that studios are simply not going to pass up the holiday season to release their major 2003 hits, no matter how crowded the slate might be. Theatrical runs are getting shorter, theatrical marketing is getting more expensive, and its becoming incumbent on home video to deliver the goods to ensure a films overall financial success.

It's going to be a wild and wooly Christmas at the sellthrough counters, no doubt. But studio execs had best be very careful in their shipments numbers, even as they battle for shelf space and consumer attention in this overheated holiday, lest they suffer from a serious dose of holiday hangover as those returns start to mount in Q1, 2004.

4 Aug, 2003

The Music Industry's CD Fixation Is a Lesson in Complacency

In the volatile entertainment business, our audio brethren often show the video industry the way. They were first to transition their business from analog to digital packaged media with the CD. The video industry later followed with its own CD-sized digital medium -- the DVD. As the CD falls in sales, hurt by illegal downloading and consumers dissatisfied with music labels they perceive as greedy, the video business may be able to draw yet another lesson.

During the recent “DVD in 50” conference, sponsored by Video Store Magazine and the DVD Entertainment Group, industry pundit and “father of DVD” Warren Lieberfarb cautioned the video business about becoming too complacent. Likening the music industry to a frog stuck in increasingly hotter water, he noted that music execs didn't have the sense to jump out before the water got too hot. By holding onto the CD, the audio business could be cooked.

I recently listened to the top-selling Led Zeppelin DVD and noted in this column that the sound was actually better than a CD. While it was a surprise to me -- and probably would be to most consumers -- I recently learned that audio execs are aware of, but not too interested in, promoting DVD's superior sound. Could they be fearful of criticizing the CD, which has served them well for so long and through so many wildly profitable years?

The music industry's downfall has been its unwillingness to move beyond the present, to evolve with technology and its consumers. When downloading came along, they fiercely held onto the CD album and its (many say) ridiculously high price. Fortunately, the video business didn't make that same mistake, launching DVD at a value price that offered much more bang for the buck than the VHS cassette -- as well as the CD. The industry didn't deny DVD's superiority; video execs, for the most part, broadcast it.

Conversely, as the DVD rises in popularity, the music business is only tentatively entering these new waters, often launching DVD discs day-and-date with the CD and offering DVD extras discs packaged with the tried-and-true CD. Had the video business held onto the VHS cassette with such tenacity, DVD would have had a much harder time gaining acceptance. Maybe the CD's time has come -- but you'll have a heck of a time convincing the music business to abandon that life raft.

The lesson in this for the video industry is to look for a bigger and better boat. As DVD peaks and new technologies encroach, the industry will need to keep its eye on offering value to the consumer, staunchly resisting the urge to hold on to the DVD. Perhaps high-def discs will be the answer. Perhaps the long-awaited movie download technology will finally take over. What's clear is, unlike the music industry, the video business can't wait until its goose is cooked.

3 Aug, 2003

VSDA Show May Have Turned a Corner

The word coming from VSDA executives last week as the association wrapped up its 22nd annual convention was that the event has “turned a corner.”

They're referring to the show's transition from a traditional expo hall format to a meeting suites format, which they initiated last year with a combination of the two formats and fully implemented this year.

Whether retailers and suppliers met by appointment or just in walk-in meetings, the clear consensus from both attendees and exhibitors was that the format was more effective and constructive than the old show-floor booth business dealings.

The exhibitors and retailers I talked to said they had very full schedules of face-to-face meetings, and that these sit-down meetings tended to be more formal and businesslike but also more intimate and useful.

Gone are the days where retailers roamed the expo hall looking for the giveaways. Now they come to develop relationships and improve their businesses; the format demands that they try to make as many pre-show arrangements as they can.

Still, the buzz and fun of a show wasn't lost in the hallways of the Venetian. Many suppliers hosted cocktail receptions in the late afternoon, brought in talent who signed autographs, and had giveaways and drawings.

This year the exhibitor suites were all in the same tower of the Venetian on consecutive floors, which was a vast improvement from last year when suites were housed in several towers of The Rio. Still, the bugaboo of jammed elevators caused no small amount of frustration for attendees again this year trying to get from floor to floor and unable to easily access the stairwells at the end of the football field-length hotel corridors. I'm not sure what the solution is to this problem other than just more elevators.

Despite this one snafu, the event buzzed with plenty of high energy in the hallways outside the suites and seminar rooms, at the many show parties and supplier receptions. Several ad hoc groups of retailers also reportedly got together, including a group of active VSDA discussion board participants who met to discuss industry issues. The $20 billion home video business is becoming more complicated as it matures and is transformed by DVD. Ray Jewell, the VSDA conference chair this year, noted before the show that things are moving fast on many fronts in this business, and the Home Entertainment 2003 event was, for him, an opportunity to try to get a comprehensive view of the business going into the second half of 2003.

The show's new setup seems to be able to deliver just that.

1 Aug, 2003

A View From the Top (Floors)

There was one complaint, and one complaint only, about this year's VSDA convention. It was that the elevator lines to the top floors, where all the suites were located, were too long.

After 15 years of video conventions, that ain't bad. The grumbling that has accompanied VSDA conventions since I began covering them in 1989 was conspicuously absent at this year's show, and despite the absence of a show floor this year's convention appeared busier and more colorful than it's been in years.

The parade of suites was a glutton's paradise, with gobs of free munchies and, in Wellspring Media's case, iced vodka (for Russian Ark, an upcoming release). The studios whose suites last year had been shuttered to the masses this time around took out additional space for hospitality suites, while independent suppliers who actually wanted independent retailers to come in and chat went all out with free screeners and other giveaways.

The net effect of the all-suites approach was that everyone was equal. In the old days, the studios outdid themselves with lavish booths and the little guys got lost in the proverbial shuffle. With suites, Ardustry Entertainment's product is presented on an equal footing as Columbia TriStar or Paramount's, and retailers with whom I spoke in the hallways and doorways of the Venetian invariably made the same observation: They had no idea there was so much good product out there, and so many cool little suppliers.

Going into the show, there was some concern about the lack of networking space that the show floor used to provide. But truth be told, I think people talked more business than in the old days. The parties and cocktail gatherings were confined to a much more central location than at the big VSDA shows of the 1990s, and overall they were better attended, as well, perhaps because most events were open to everyone and not just a hand-picked gaggle of “invited guests.”

At this point, I must note that Video Store Magazine and the show have common ties in Advanstar Communications, and that the kind folks at Advanstar write my check. But I've never been known to keep quiet about things that bug me, and those of you who have read me over the years know that in years past I have often been quite critical of the VSDA convention.

I'd almost like to find some bones to pick this time around, as well. The problem is, I can't think of any.

31 Jul, 2003

See you at the show!

T. K. Arnold is at the VSDA show this week. He'll be back next week with plenty to talk about!

29 Jul, 2003

See you at the show!

Holly Wagner is at the VSDA show this week. She'll be back next week with plenty to talk about!