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Solution to Sales Slump May Mean Looking Outside

17 Aug, 2010 By: Thomas K. Arnold

I remember back to those dark days in late 2008, when Detroit's auto makers were complaining to the government that they were in danger of going under. General Motors, in particular, was in a fine fix, stumbling on the threshold of bankruptcy. "No one wants to buy their cars," I observed. A friend immediately responded, "Well, maybe they should stop feeling sorry for themselves and start making cars people do want to buy."

There's a lesson here for our studio friends. For more than two years, we've heard that sales of new releases were slipping, while the bottom has all but dropped out of the market for theatrical catalog. Each quarter we try to present the numbers in a positive light, and each quarter it becomes increasingly difficult. The big challenge every studio executive is grappling with is how to get consumers excited about buying discs again--DVD, Blu-ray Disc, it doesn't really matter which format, at this point. "We need to get people buying again" is the battle cry that's being sounded all over Hollywood, and if anyone can figure out exactly how to do that--well, please don't keep it to yourself.

I don't profess to have the answer, although I have my hunches as to why sales are down: No more room, the thrill of owning movies has faded, no need to buy The Terminator or Rocky a fourth or a fifth time, why buy "Leave It To Beaver" on disc when I can watch it for free on Hulu.

I do think, though, that perhaps we are looking at the problem from the wrong side. Instead of scratching our heads and wondering why consumers aren't buying discs, let's take a long, hard look at what the studios are putting out on disc--and maybe tinker with that end of the business model.

New theatrical releases and catalog movie titles will always be a key part of the mix, as will TV shows. But with all three categories down, aren't there other sources out there we can mine? Again, I make no pretenses about having the answers. I don't know where the search will lead. The point I am trying to make, rather, is that we need to search, long and hard, for something to put on those shiny little discs that will excite the consumer and get them running to Walmart or Best Buy or Amazon.

Maybe the answer lies in the old movie theater serials of the 1930s. Let's followup hit movies with a regular series of direct-to-video sequels (or prequels) that come out within a few weeks of the original movie. The DVD/Blu-ray Disc release of The Hangover, for example, could have been followed with a series of shorter featurettes on, say, post-married life; the funny brother as a child; or the parents' own marriage. I loved the movie and certainly would have bought related programming on disc, had it been available.

Or maybe we need to look at the web. With all the rich content on YouTube, surely a savvy studio executive could come up with something--a compilation of top-viewed clips, an expanded feature based on a popular series of shorts, or even something original but influenced by the latest YouTube trend.

These are just some ideas to get the proverbial ball rolling. Just like General Motors, the solution to Hollywood's ills isn't necessarily to rekindle consumer interest. It's to start making stuff people will want to buy on disc.




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