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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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24 Apr, 2015

United We Stand

Going it alone in the home entertainment business has never been a good idea. Back in the early days of home video, VHS triumphed over the far-better Betamax primarily because JVC, which designed VHS technology, was willing to license it to other manufacturers. Sony refused to share; only in the late 1980s did the company finally agree to license Betamax to other manufacturers, but by then it was too late: VHS had an overwhelming market share.

The home video market grew and prospered regardless of this disharmonious start, but I fear that’s something of an exception. The home video market gave consumers unprecedented control over their viewing choices, something they had never had before, and it grew rapidly largely because the proposition was so enticing and there was no real competition. Pay-per-view was still in its infancy, and the on-demand factor that really propelled home video’s fortunes was still a pipe dream.

Today’s home entertainment landscape is much more fragmented than it ever was. Consumers have all sorts of options for viewing movies, TV shows, and other programs on demand — when they want to watch it, where they want to watch it, how they want to watch it. And the proliferation of screens — remember, for years, the home TV was the only conduit to watch something, regardless of whether it was delivered on a cassette (and then disc), cable, satellite, or broadcast — has only intensified the competition even more.

The only constant, really, is this: The content owners, chiefly the studios, would much prefer consumers buy a copy of the movie or TV show rather than stream it (or, back in the day, rent it). It’s a clean, finite transaction — and a lot more profitable.

The studios have done a great job, driving ownership, through a series of innovations that focused on the two key factors driving consumer demand in this business:  easy and cheap. First came DVD, priced low out of the gate to encourage sales and, with random access, so much easier to watch than a videocassette (no need to rewind). Then came Blu-ray Disc, a qualitative improvement, followed by Digital HD.

Getting people accustomed to buying movies electronically rather than in physical form was made all the more challenging by the emergence of low-cost streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. And yet it can be argued that the ease of streaming has opened up consumer eyes to the wonderful world of digital distribution — and through incentives like early windowing and saving hot new releases for purchase it’s only a matter of time before the studios establish a viable sellthrough business.

UltraViolet only makes the value proposition all the more enticing. The concept of a digital “locker” where your purchased content lives on forever, and may be accessed at any time, on any device, is a sweet proposition. It eases the transition from disc to download, and at the same time acts as a safety net. Even if you lose or break the disc, or your hard drive crashes and takes down your movie library with it, the content you bought is yours forever.

If there’s one fly in the proverbial ointment, it is this: While all the major studios and many independents are part of the UltraViolet consortium, Walt Disney Studios is conspicuously absent, insisting on going it alone with Disney Movies Anywhere, a proprietary alternative to UltraViolet.

That needs to change. Now, more than ever before, is the time to be a team player — to stand united as the industry transitions from packaged media into the digital space, with a viable purchase proposition to counter the proliferation of streaming options.

Disney Movies Anywhere is certainly a great technology, but it’s only one studio. UltraViolet could be the home entertainment industry’s Balm of Gilead, but it needs universal support.

Why not figure out a way to merge the systems?

Have we forgotten that old statement, united we stand?

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24 Apr, 2015

Box Office Glow Might Rub Off

If there is an equivalent of a crystal ball for home entertainment, it is the box office take of films in the pipeline. When theaters have more hits, typically studios and retailers sell and rent more home entertainment product.

At the annual CinemaCon trade show in Las Vegas, John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, offered an optimistic view for 2015. He predicted a record-breaking year for the industry in part based on the quality, genre breadth and expert timing of releases. He also gave a shout-out to the industry’s greater appeal to women moviegoers, citing such films as Fifty Shades of Grey, Cinderella and Insurgent. He said there would be several movies topping $1 billion in box office worldwide. The hits include Furious 7 (already raking in the dough) and the anticipated “Avengers” and “Jurassic Park” sequels as well as the “Minions” spinoff. Of course, the “Star Wars” sequel is a potential blockbuster of galactic proportions.

This is welcome news after a bit of a drought in box office power. As California has thirsted for more rain, so too have the studios suffered a drought in hits. Soon it will be the home entertainment industry’s turn to reap that expected record harvest. But this time there are many more digital competitors in the home entertainment realm that will take a bite out of the crop, putting more pressure on the traditional home entertainment business. If you have a team of all stars and still can’t bring in the trophy, pundits turn to the management to blame.

It is the home entertainment industry’s job to extract as much bounty from this wealth of hits as it can. The pressure is on. New releases have made up an ever-increasing segment of the top 50 sellers on the VideoScan charts. When the new releases are stellar, it makes sense that the home entertainment business will profit. Theaters are throwing the home entertainment industry a soft ball, and the industry needs to hit it out of the park.

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21 Apr, 2015

'Taken' Leads Slow Week

Fox’s Taken 3 may as well have been the only notable new release as far as the retailers were concerned April 21, which might be why the weekly ad circulars were more focused on selling catalog titles and promoting preorders for future hits.

While Taken 3 didn’t come with any retail exclusives, Best Buy did push its Blu-ray preorder for Warner’s American Sniper by offering exclusive bonus content when the title arrives May 19.

Target is offering a $5 gift card with preorders for Cinderella, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water and Paddington at Target.com/preorder.

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20 Apr, 2015

New on Disc: 'Imitation of Life' and more …

Imitation of Life: 2-Movie Collection (Blu-ray)

Universal, Drama, $26.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Louise Beavers, Lana Turner, Juanita Moore, Susan Kohner.

1934/1959. The lush 1959 remake of the Fannie Hurst perennial is so revered by Douglas Sirk worshippers that the not insignificant power of the ’34 John Stahl original tends to be obscured.
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Singles (Blu-ray)

Warner, Comedy, $19.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13’ for language, sex related dialogue and scenes of sensuality.
Stars Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Matt Dillon.
Even some people who love 1989’s Say Anything and 1996’s Jerry Maguire may be unfamiliar with the easygoing charmer that writer-director Cameron Crowe sandwiched between them.
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14 Apr, 2015

New 'Batman' Brings Deals

As is typical for DC Universe animated movie releases, Batman vs. Robin arrived April 14 with several retail exclusives.

However, the pattern usually associated with exclusives surrounding the DC titles changed slightly. First, Warner offered a wide-release version of a Blu-ray gift pack with a character figurine, usually reserved for a Best Buy exclusive. As a result, Best Buy spruced up its version of the gift pack, offering a Digital HD copy of Batman: Under the Red Hood and a digital comic book of Batman #1.

Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack in a steelbook case, while Walmart, which usually offers a DVD special edition of such titles, had no exclusive.

Target also touted preorders for American Sniper at , offering a Blu-ray steelbook case and a guarantee for guests to pay a lower price if the cost drops before the title is released.

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13 Apr, 2015

Technical Issues Continue to Affect Sling TV

To some Sling TV subscribers, streaming the April 12 premiere of “Game of Thrones” via Roku was an exercise in frustration. Not unlike the men’s college basketball Final Four April 6 when technical snafus undermined streaming Duke vs. Michigan State and Wisconsin vs. Kentucky.

Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch again took to social media, first giving a shout out to the IT department for delivering a “great experience” to the “vast majority of our customers.” He also acknowledged ongoing technical issues.

“We heard of (and experienced for ourselves) some Roku devices taking too long to load our app. Our teams are actively addressing this issue,” Lynch said.

The executive said improvements were made to a variety of core systems — from account creation to service delivery. Sling also enhanced its app across all platforms, which helped in load management and delivered new features, like parental controls, according to Lynch.

None of that mattered to me the morning of April 13 when a frozen TV screen image of Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio on CNN confirmed all was not well between Sling TV and Roku.

A Sling rep reaffirmed the Roku issues, which prompted a call to the latter’s customer service and the following voice message: “You’re estimated wait time is less than 20 minutes. We apologize for the delay.”

Luckily, in half that time I was connected to a technical rep located in India. She told me to unplug and plug-in (after 30 seconds) my Netgear wireless router. Then I was prompted to reload the Sling TV app. The technical issues continued.

I was put back on hold with Muzak. When the rep returned, she told me to push the home button on the Roku remote five times, followed by the rewind key three times and fast-forward button twice. That brought me to a screen allowing me to override the default streaming speed.

Following the prompts back to the home page, I clicked on the Sling TV link and back to CNN. The tech rep said she would wait to make sure the streams worked. They did long enough to be informed my case file would be kept open for future reference.

I was also told that my 90 days of free customer service had expired. Should I call technical support again, I would be charged a $9.99 fee.

A few minutes later my TV screen froze again. I switched to Pandora without any issues. I think I’ll watch a DVD next.



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13 Apr, 2015

New on Disc: 'The Thin Blue Line' and more …

The Thin Blue Line

Criterion, Documentary, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
The prodigious list of amazing things about Errol Morris’ landmark miscarried-justice buster includes the fact that it got made in the first place, looking into the case of an Ohio drifter apparently railroaded for the murder of a Dallas cop that a teenaged walking rap sheet had almost certainly committed. About a year after Blue Line’s release, the state of Texas dropped charges against Randall Dale Adams and released him. The print here is one of renewed luster, and this is its own reward because it’s been said that the documentary had fallen into sad shape.
Extras: As we see and hear Morris himself quote his wife as having noted during the essential 40-minute interview featurette that Criterion has included with its Blue Line package, entire cable stations are now devoted to the kind of projects that he worked so exhaustingly to bankroll a quarter-century ago. Included in the extras is a “Today” show joint satellite interview with Morris in one studio and Adams plus lawyer in another. Blue Line was a true groundbreaker, something attested to with vigor on another bonus extra by filmmaker Josh Oppenheimer, whose The Act of Killing received its own huzzahs a couple years ago.
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The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars George Sanders, Ella Raines, Geraldine Fitzgerald.
Given the censorship strictures of the time, Harry’s compelling narrative does paint itself into such a corner that it’s no surprise that five different endings got market-tested before Universal settled on the notorious end result. Which is: probably the worst wrap-up ever for a movie that is still basically a winner up until the final three or four minutes.
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7 Apr, 2015

Preorders Take Throne at Target

In a slow week for new releases, Target emphasized home video preorders of several titles currently in theaters. In fact, the week's new releases were so low key that some Target stores didn't even bother to put them on shelves.

The highest-profile new release was Lionsgate's A Most Violent Year, which did manage a mention in Target's weekly ad circular. However, the title that seemed to get the most push was a limited-edition re-release of the first season of "Game of Thrones," timed in the week leading up to the premiere of the fifth season on HBO. The major difference with the "Thrones" release seems to be that it comes in slimmer, more conventional packagine for a lower price.

The preorders Target plugged in its weekly ad circular were Furious 7, Fifty Shades of Grey and Insurgent. The chain offered a $5 gift card and delivery by mail of the final produce with advanced orders placed at Target.com/preorder.

Best Buy did list a slate of new releases in its ad circular, but devoted most of its space to clearing out older titles. The chain touted free shipping on orders $35 and up. It should be noted that in the past few weeks, Best Buy altered its promotions strategy, and usually lists just the Blu-ray price for a new title with a note stating "Other format available," or not even offering the DVD version in stores at all.

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6 Apr, 2015

Is Sling TV Ready for Primetime?

As Wisconsin and Duke April 6 met to decide college basketball’s No. 1 men’s team, the Final Four competition April 4 featuring Duke vs. Michigan State and Kentucky vs. Wisconsin proved to be a bit of a streaming challenge on Sling TV.

As a subscriber to Sling, Dish Network’s upstart over-the top video service, I relished the chance to watch online as TNT and TBS streamed most of the 64 games of March Madness.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone. The live video streams were repeatedly compromised by buffering, pauses, pixilation and aggravating “error” messages.

The experience underscored OTT video’s Achilles heel, namely that the technology is not yet prepared to handle excessive demand for programming — unlike traditional linear TV. 

While the Duke/Michigan State contest wasn’t really in doubt, Wisconsin playing down to the wire and beating undefeated Kentucky was a different story. And Sling wasn’t prepared.

“We're sorry some basketball fans saw errors tonight due to extreme sign-ups and streaming. Engineers rebalanced load across network partners,” Sling tweeted April 4.

To be fair, HBO Go experienced similar technology glitches during the March 9, 2014, finale of dark thriller “True Detective.”

And it wasn’t the first time I’d experienced problems with Sling — the first OTT service to offer ESPN and HBO without mandatory pay-TV subscriptions. On several occasions, the TV screen has gone blank with Sling posting the “error” message, or my favorite: “Oops, we’re working on it.”

A call to Sling’s tech support resolved the issue by having me delete and reinstall the Sling app on my Roku device. But even that remedy didn’t work Saturday night as Wisconsin pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NCAA history -- key moments of which I missed.

To ensure no repeat during Duke's impressive comeback win against the Badgers and fifth NCAA championship, I watched Monday night's game at a friend's house -- on linear TV.



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6 Apr, 2015

New on Disc: 'Ride the Pink Horse' and more …

Ride the Pink Horse

Criterion, Mystery, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Robert Montgomery, Wanda Hendrix, Thomas Gomez, Fred Clark.
An oddly beguiling genre scrambler that goes against a slew of grains, this cultist cause seems to have been worthily undertaken by Criterion (even more than most of their selections) to make it more widely known to the general public.
Extras: Criterion extras include an essay, commentary by ubiquitous noir pros Alain Silver and James Ursini; an interview with Imogen Sara Smith (author of In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City); and a Lux Radio Theatre spinoff.
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Our Mother’s House

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Dirk Bogarde, Pamela Franklin.
The boozy Brit womanizer top-billed Dirk Bogarde plays here is a textbook definition of a fun-to-watch wastrel, but by the time he shows up almost 40 minutes in to add some welcome buzz to the drama, we’ve already been treated to a compelling-enough setup involving seven siblings forced to take their lives into their own hands.
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