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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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13 Dec, 2000

TK's MORNING BUZZ: Studios Are Really Pushing the Envelope With DVD Special Features


Studios are really pushing the envelope when it comes to special features on DVD. You've got Universal's brilliant make-up documentary on Nutty Professor II: The Klumps and exclusive Internet chat with the cast and crew of Jurassic Park 3 on the original Jurassic Park and The Lost World DVDs.

You've got Disney's incredible boxed sets of Toy Story/Toy Story 2 and Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, each with a third disc of nothing but extras.

You've got Artisan, putting three different versions of Terminator 2 in the same Ultimate Edition package. And you've got Fox's new X-Men DVD, with a detailed chronology of the special effects, from concept to execution.

I can hardly wait to see The Grinch DVD when it comes out next year. My prediction is that with this disc, Universal will raise the bar even higher, adding such extras as the original Grinch animated classic, a start-to-finish documentary on Jim Carrey's make-up and fly-around virtual "tours" of Whoville and the Grinch's lair.

In light of all this, it rankles me to no end that some studios still don't get it. They persist in passing off as "extras," cheerily advertised on the packaging, some basics that really aren't special features at all.

Alternate language tracks aren't special features. Neither are subtitles. Surround Sound and widescreen are enhancements, not special features.

And please, please, PUH-LEASE give me a break! Trailers for other movies are not special features--they're blatant commercials for other titles the studio is hoping to sell.

So please, studio executives, if you happen to read this, promise me one thing: Try to keep special features special. I'm getting sick and tired of unwarranted hype--and I have a feeling consumers are, too.


Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com


12 Dec, 2000

TK's MORNING BUZZ: Is RadioShack Ready to Meet the Best Buy Challenge?


RadioShack is getting a little defensive, with its chairman assuring investors and anyone else who cares to listen that the mall-based chain of consumer electronics stores is fully prepared to meet any challenge that may result from Best Buy's acquisition of Musicland Stores Corp. and its stated intent to turn Musicland's mall stores into mini-Best Buys, selling consumer electronics hardware alongside its core mix of music and video software.

You can't blame RadioShack, one of the few chains that has steadfastly refused to enter the software market in any major way, even as its big-box peers like Circuit City have transitioned themselves into software sellers of some magnitude.

Depending on what Best Buy ends up doing with the 600-odd Sam Goody mall music stores it acquires, change may ultimately be in the wind at RadioShack, regardless of what it says, or does, at the present time.

The same may be true of other consumer electronics chains like the Good Guys, which is already toying with software at the Wow concept stores it is operating in partnership with Tower Records and Video.

It's a natural mix, and one that as convergence progresses will make more and more sense.

For years, hardware sellers and software sellers have stayed on their respective sides of the line, even though to consumers nothing, one would think, would be more natural than for all home entertainment needs to be fulfilled at one place.

That's one reason Best Buy is as successful as it is; when DVD was first launched, the chain was one of the first to carry a wide mix of both software and hardware and reap the resultant benefits. Best Buy in those early days reported that the average buyer of a DVD player bought 22 DVD discs as well--no small potatoes, and great for retailers like Best Buy that carried it all.

Circuit City recently chucked its appliances in favor of more software and home entertainment hardware, and while that decision has yet to pay off, I believe in the long run, it will.

Convergence is upon us, and the successful retailers of the future will be those that offer consumers a convergence of hardware and related software.

Consumers want convenience, and one-stop shopping makes as much sense for home entertainment merchants as it does for, say, supermarkets, a class of trade that has been busy adding all sorts of bells and whistles--from laundry service and photofinishing to fast food and banking--in recent years.


Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com


11 Dec, 2000

TK's MORNING BUZZ: Retail's Switch to DVD Is Happening Even Quicker Than Expected


I got my first look in nearly a year at a Suncoast Motion Picture Co. video sellthrough store last night, and despite the explosive success of DVD I was surprised at how thorough the chain is transitioning from cassette to disc.

DVDs dominated the main aisles of the store, with cassettes relegated to the sides. Signage, too, appears to steer customers to the expansive selection of DVD in the store. It reminds me of a visit I paid to a Tower Records store over the weekend, the music portion of which is dominated by CDs while audiocassettes are hanging bravely onto the sides.

I knew this was going to happen, but it's happened much quicker than even I, a diehard DVD backer, thought it would.

The other thing that impressed me about Suncoast is the wealth of movie memorabilia, from the hottest of the hot--Austin Powers dolls, X-Men action figures, Grinch everything--to more esoteric stuff like the terrifying puppets from Full Moon Entertainment's 10-year-old Puppetmaster series to a variety of monsters from obscure horror flicks.

The store is inviting and well laid out, and appears to have as much product merchandise set up as mini-destinations--neat little sections, well-stocked and cheery, such as the holiday movie section--as it does to snag the impulse buyer.

And the "dump bins" in front that have become an obligatory part of any video store, rental or otherwise, are a lot more intriguing than the bins of used cassettes that greet visitors to Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video stores. They're filled with a variety of marked-down product, mostly memorabilia, ideal for stuffing stockings.

I know Best Buy, having announced its intent to purchase giant Musicland Stores Corp., plans a major makeover of the latter chain's mall stores, primarily Sam Goody music outlets. Best Buy is planning to add consumer electronics, mostly digital, to the core inventory of music, and speculation is that DVD software will be ramped up as well.

I sure hope they leave Suncoast alone, though. From the looks of things--and the crowds of people who were there even though it was nearly 7 p.m. on a Sunday--this is one retailer that's doing everything right.


Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com


8 Dec, 2000

APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: Movie MAFIA -- Marketing AFI Anachronistically


Peter Rainer gets it. Hard to say whether Tom Pollock and Jean Picker Firstenberg get it or have lost it.

Firstenberg is director of the American Film Institute and Pollock chairman of its board. Last week they announced that AFI, a prestigious totem of Hollywood (excuse the expression) culture, would at long last come to its senses in fulfilling a long-neglected civic duty. Starting January 9, 2001-–save the date--it will issue an annual list of what it deems-–hold your breath--the top 10 movies. What the world needs now.

I easily can find nice things to say about this development, and plan to do just that a little further down as you scroll. But first, Peter Rainer. Don’t know the man, who is chairman of the National Society of Film Critics, but he and I apparently are kindred spirits.

This past week, I read in the L.A. Times that he has the good sense to suggest AFI should not simply reinforce the soggy status quo of countless top 10, year-end movie lists which, collectively, have a numbing effect on our perception of popular culture.

Let’s face it. The movie MAFIA is all about limiting consumer choice to a handful of highly commercial, feature-length films, exactly the genre AFI intends to further laminate with its imprimatur. I’m with Rainer, who proposes that a more worthy initiative would be to “name the 10 most neglected movies of the year, or the 10 best documentaries, or the 10 best short films,” as he is quoted in the Dec. 5 L.A. Times. “Films that really could use some high-level recognition from an organization like that.”

The AFI, in fact, is a leading incubator of aspiring filmmakers, who can be excused if they look slightly askance at their patron’s succumbing to the starstruck syndrome at the dawn of digital filmmaking. We’re entering an extraordinary era that affords easy, cost-efficient access to creative tools for millions who are outside the sphere of movie industry influence.

In this day and age, movie distribution doesn’t require a reel of film and a multiplex.

In this day and age, a few thousand bucks’ worth of digital camcorder and desktop PC constitute a movie studio. In this day and age, if you think of a movie only as a narrative work at least an hour in length, as AFI unfortunately does, you have another think coming.

What you have to admire about AFI’s attempt to establish itself as a national arbiter of good taste in popular cinema is that it strongly implies the organization’s distaste for how hoary the Oscars have become. In that, it is far from alone. The strongest testament to Oscar’s progressing state of feebleness is how it has let the once-lowly Golden Globes catch a joyride on its coattails. Granted, the Oscarfest is watched by billions the world over, which only goes to prove how broad and bland an event it is.

Besides, as television goes, the Golden Globes in recent years have earned a reputation as more entertaining than the offal Oscarcast. Can it be that AFI senses the vulnerability of the increasingly anachronistic Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Awards’ process and presentation? Perhaps.

We don’t doubt AFI has good intentions, but it also is stuck right in the middle of the movie MAFIA. To those like Peter Rainer and this reporter, who favor the encouragement of new talent forging new forms of content, AFI needs to plug itself in to the digital muse that marks the next millennium. The one that begins in three weeks.


Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com


8 Dec, 2000

TK's MORNING BUZZ: Best Buy's Plans for Musicland's Mall Stores Are Intriguing


Best Buy's plans for Musicland's mall stores are intriguing. I'm sure by now all of you know that Best Buy, the nation's No. 1 consumer electronics chain, is buying Musicland Stores Corp., the country's top music retailer, for $685 million.

Best Buy's objective, in acquiring more than 1,300 additional storefronts to add to its own 400-plus, is to beef up its presence and avenues for selling cutting-edge digital electronics like DVD players, satellite systems and assorted wireless gadgetry.

Best Buy's immediate target are Musicland's 680 Sam Goody mall stores, as well as another 200 On Cue locations in rural areas. These stores in the coming year will be converted into mini-Best Buys, with their music and video software mix augmented by hardware.

Analysts question whether the transformation will work, maintaining that costs are higher in smaller stores and Best Buy may not be able to carry over its trademark deep-discount pricing and promotions. They also wonder whether Best Buy will have the cash to carry through with its plans, since its own earnings for the second half of this year are off and music sales are flattening after several years of slow but steady growth.

If Best Buy can pull it off, however, then we will see the birth of a truly revolutionary chain of multimedia stores that carry just about everything, albeit in limited quantities, having to do with home entertainment.

This could be a very smart move, in my mind. Best Buy has already established itself as a destination for home entertainment enthusiasts. I personally shop there for CDs and hardware, and I know many video specialty retailers routinely pick up their DVDs and VHS sellthrough cassettes at prices a lot lower than their distributors charge.

If Best Buy can successfully bring its product mix into the malls and thus capture the impulse buyer as well as the destination shopper, then we're looking at something that could truly be big. But as the analysts say, there are compelling questions about whether all of this is even possible.

The home entertainment store of the future just might not fit into a cookie cutter, after all.


Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com


7 Dec, 2000

TK's MORNING BUZZ: DVD Sales Are the Glimmer in the Future of Home Video


With new forms of competition for our leisure hours surfacing all the time, particularly in the area of delivering entertainment into the home, it's reassuring to hear the experts say home video won't be cannibalized, but that the overall pie will get bigger.

That was the underlying message I got at the International Recording Media Association's annual marketing summit, held yesterday at the Universal City Hilton in Universal City, Calif.

A study by merchant bankers Veronis & Suhler concludes that consumer spending on communications--content and access--will grow from $129.9 billion in 1999 to $178.1 billion in 2004, and that home video's share will remain at 15%.

That's a huge net increase for consumer spending on home video, fueled primarily by DVD.

But Veronis & Suhler also had another interesting finding: Despite the growing competition for our leisure hours, consumers will be spending more and more time watching home video, from an average of 55 hours last year to an average of 71 hours in 2004.

Later that day, Jim Bottoms of Understanding & Solutions, one of England's top media consultancies, told me that despite advances in developing true video-on-demand, both over the Internet and via digitalcable/satellite, packaged media will always survive.

"You'll see the pie being expanded," Bottoms said, adding, "if anybody issuffering, it will be broadcast TV."

Bottoms pointed out that consumers are by nature "collectors," and that40% of packaged media sales are for the gift market. "DVD, VHS, CD--those are nice things to give as gifts," he said. "Digital downloads don't have the same appeal."

So there you have it--a glimmer of hope, although I should caution that the home video model that is expected to not only survive, but thrive, in the face of more and more encroaching technologies isn't quite like today's home video model.

You can rule out VHS, and you can pretty much rule out rental as well. DVD sales--that's the future of home video, these experts say, and at least for now it's a future that looks rock solid.


Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com


6 Dec, 2000

TK's MORNING BUZZ: Pay Downloading Is an Entirely Different Beast Than Free Downloading


The announcement last week that several major studios are actively working on digital downloading of movies via the Internet struck fear into the hearts of video retailers. Here is a concept that is so painless, so effortless, that it threatens to revolutionize the industry, to the detriment of traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.

But my earlier statements that such a process is still years way from becoming reality are underscored by a conversation I had today with Russ Solomon, the crusty founder of Tower Records and Video who the night before was inducted into the Video Hall of Fame.

On the music side, digital downloading is already here, since it takes a lot less time and hard drive space to download a song than it does a feature-length movie with audio and video elements.

And yet Solomon says the impact on his business has been nil, and he expects it to stay that way well into the future.

Pay downloading is an entirely different beast than free downloading, Solomon says. He's found that if consumers have to pay roughly the same cost to download an album as they do to buy one, they will invariably stick with the pre-recorded album they buy at stores.

Once an album is downloaded onto a computer, it still has to be burned onto a CD for the average Joe to enjoy it at his leisure. And that's a time-consuming and expensive proposition, particularly when a ready-made CD is easily purchased at a record store or through an online dealer.

Tower's Web site sells up to 10,000 CDs a day, while yesterday's sales tally for downloaded albums amounted to a grand total of three.

It's not practical, it's not cost-efficient and, besides, the consumer doesn't get the digital original, with pristine sound quality packaging.

At most, digital downloading will be "ancillary" to packaged music, Solomon maintains, with the vast majority of consumers opting to buy packaged CDs even when the process is simplified and the average home computer is fast enough to download an entire album in a matter of seconds.

Just to be on the safe side, Tower offers consumers the choice to buy digitally downloaded albums right alongside CDs and audiocassettes on its Web site, and has even installed kiosks in two stores in Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, where consumers can download albums over the Internet.

But neither venture is making much money, and Solomon doesn't see that changing. Accordingly, he's far from worried about the impact of digitally downloadable music on Tower's video business.

"I just don't see it happening," he says.


Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com


5 Dec, 2000

TK's MORNING BUZZ: The Bursting of the ReplayTV Bubble Isn't Surprising

The bursting of the ReplayTV bubble isn't surprising. You may have read reports that the company, one of the leading players in interactive television, has laid off nearly half its work force, canned its chief executive and plotted a new strategy in which it will get out of the consumer retail market in favor of licensing its technology.

Replay's demise can be explained in one word: confusion. There has been a ton of hype about Replay and its chief rival, Tivo, which is still in business.

But wading through press release after press release, it took me quite a while to figure what, exactly, their respective set-top boxes do. It took me even longer to figure out why anyone would want them.

Both companies have done a great job in building consumer awareness. But it's also a good idea to make sure consumers want what you're selling, and to make it perfectly clear, through your advertising and marketing, exactly what it is you are selling.

These last two things, neither company has done.

Tivo, which has twice the subscribers and charges significantly less than Replay, is in a great position, for now. Its only real competitor is effectively out of the picture, and Tivo can savor its moment in the hype spotlight all by itself.

But hype only goes so far, and it is my feeling that once the next high-tech flavor-of-the-month is unveiled, Tivo, too, will have a real difficulty building and maintaining a market for itself. The product, in a nutshell, is a glorified VCR that doesn't use tape.

Is it revolutionary enough for consumers to add yet another set-top box to their growing pile of components? I doubt it. But even if it is, the advertising message is so ambiguous that it's hard for consumers to get a handle on what a Tivo player really is, and does.

The most successful consumer electronics products in our business are clear as a bell. Consumers know a VCR lets them watch movies and record TV shows.

They know a DVD player lets them watch movies on shiny little discs that look like CDs. They know the new PlayStation 2 machine can play PlayStation games as well as DVDs, and they've probably heard about Microsoft working on a similar machine that can also play games and DVDs.

Ask the average person on the street if he or she has ever heard of Tivo and chances are the answer will be "Yes." But ask that person if he or she knows what Tivo is and you're likely to get a blank stare--or a ho-hum shrug of the shoulders.

As 1960s pop philosopher Marshall MacLuhan once said, "The medium is the message." In this case, neither one is very clear.


Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com


4 Dec, 2000

TK's MORNING BUZZ: Video Retailers Have a Lot to Complain About, But Pity Their Poor Peers in the Music Business


Video retailers have a lot to complain about, but pity their poor peers in the music retail business.

Video dealers squawked like crazy last week when the news broke that several major studios are testing digital downloading of movies; in the music business, digital downloading is already a budding industry, with the full support and consent (now that they're assured of getting a cut) of the major labels.

Video dealers are angry with the studios for cutting direct revenue-sharing deals with Blockbuster and several other big chains, but in the music business, labels are in direct competition with their retail customers.

Columbia House's parentage has long been a sore spot among retailers, and the moans only grew louder when BMG bought CDNow, one of the top online music stores, and pumped a load of money and promotional support into the struggling Web site.

At least one major label is allegedly trying to encourage consumers to buy directly from its Web site by adding some promotional "extras" to its CDs.

And you think video retailers are having a hard time getting co-op from the studios? Ask any of the few remaining independent music dealers how much support they've been getting of late from the big labels.

I felt VSDA chief Bo Andersen was being a little cheesy when he kept referring to studios as "our partners" in recent speeches he's given, but in light of what's been happening in the music business, he wasn't that far off the mark.

In video, the studios can rightfully be accused of parental neglect and perhaps even favoritism.

But at least they don't eat their young!


Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com


1 Dec, 2000

TK's MORNING BUZZ: What's In Store for Video Retailers Staring into a Future of Studio Downloads?


The report in the Wall Street Journal that several major studios are looking at ways to sell movies directly to consumers over the Internet has caused a panic attack among many retailers. The sky, it appears, is beginning to fall, and retailers are more concerned about their future than ever before.

A followup report in the Los Angeles Times that maintains the studios plan to offer new movies over the Internet only after they come out on video provided little solace to retailers, who say their worst fears have been confirmed.

Studios already offer movies through pay-per-view cable and satellite, with video windows averaging more than 50 days, and yet that doesn't make that threat any less formidable.

Guys, stop worrying. The Wall Street Journal report was hardly a major revelation; for years, we've known that video downloading via the Internet was in the works, just as music downloading is already a reality.

Music retailers are concerned about the proliferation of music downloading sites, but they're not making plans to shutter their businesses and fall down on the floor, kicking and screaming that all is lost.

To the contrary--smart and savvy retailers, like Tower Records and Video and Trans World Entertainment, are working overtime to find ways to participate in this new delivery system, while at the same time beefing up their packaged goods business, both in their brick-and-mortar stores and on their Web sites.

Ultimately, the big record chains plan to sell digital downloads of music alongside CDs and audiocassettes, in dedicated "shops" on their Web sites as well as through Internet-connected kiosks in their stores. To them, digital downloading is just another format, and one they're more than willing to carry.

Video retailers need to adopt the same strategy. Who was it who said, "They can only defeat me if I let them?" By embracing this new technology rather than running and hiding from it, music retailers are turning a potential threat into a new opportunity, albeit a challenging one.

And there's no reason video retailers can't do so as well--particularly since the present state of technology is such that practical video downloading on a wide-scale basis is still several years away, giving retailers all the more time to plan their strategies. That's the essence of what Blockbuster is doing with its "Blockbuster On Demand" movie service through Enron--video downloading is not a viable business now, but the mechanism is being put in place so that when it is, Blockbuster will be there.

And so should other retailers.


Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com