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Don’t Forget Main Street

2 Jul, 2014 By: Thomas K. Arnold

For several years now, in the political realm, we’ve been hearing that to really measure the state of the economy we need to focus not on Wall Street but on Main Street.

The same can be said in our industry: We need to focus less on Hollywood, California, and more on Hollywood, Florida.

Our industry has been too quick to give up on formats and technologies simply because they are no longer cool or hip — and in the process we’ve left a lot of people out there in a proverbial lurch, wondering why they can’t get their favorite movie on the format they like and are familiar with.

We’ve also been so dazzled by technology that we forget the formula for success in any field that French philosopher of education Jacques Barzun happened to apply to a book on the craft of writing: Simple and direct.

When DVD came around, it took a while for the format to take hold, but after Walmart jumped aboard about two years after launch the studios couldn’t get rid of VHS fast enough. Studio executives all had DVD players and so did their neighbors, so why bother even making those clunky videocassettes anymore?

What they failed to realize was that those clunky videocassettes were not only immensely popular in America’s heartland, but they also were keeping video rental stores alive — rental stores that indirectly helped feed the DVD juggernaut by easing people into the new format. Ma and Pa Kettle in Jasper, Ala., could keep renting movies they liked, and gradually warm up to DVD — and the concept of out-of-the-gate ownership — at their own pace. It’s human nature to be more open to something new if we can approach it on our own terms, instead of having it forced on us.

Sure, ultimately DVD became the biggest success story the consumer electronics industry has ever seen, but I can’t help but wonder how much money was left behind by the premature death of VHS. I believe the two formats could have co-existed peacefully for a lot longer than they did, and the industry as a whole would have seen a much slower decline in rental spending — and a much less dramatic death march by independent retailers.

When Blu-ray Disc launched, our industry once again was lulled by looking inside, at our own close circle, instead of at the mainstream consumer. We replaced our movie libraries, so we assumed everyone else would, too — failing to realize that at the time Blu-ray launched much of America was still in the process of building up their DVD libraries. A new format, mired in a brutal format war, no less, must have confused the hell out of the average American who doesn’t live and breathe entertainment.

We further complicated matters by touting different “versions” of Blu-ray, as well as high-tech features such as BD-Live — this at a time when not a single studio president I talked to even owned a connected Blu-ray player.

All the while, we should have focused on one thing: a vast improvement in the viewing experience, with a true high-def picture and the best-ever sound.

Simple and direct. That’s what resonates across America.

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