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July 07, 2002
DVD Turns 5 (and we were there)

Did you know that DVD just turned 5? Hard to believe a format which feels like it's just 'getting big' has actually been around for 5 years. To mark the occasion, many of the major studios got together to celebrate, discuss and lament over DVDs first five years at the DVD at 5 Conference held in Marina Del Rey, California. While there were no amazing revelations at the DVD at 5 conference, I did get a strong sense of how the studios look at DVD, where they're putting their focus and where they see it going. It was an interesting insight into the past, present and future of DVD.

DVD is International
If there was one mantra that was repeated over, and over and over again at the conference, it was - 'DVD is International'. One of the major problems studios have had with VHS is that it never played as well internationally as it did in the US. An interesting thing has happened with the release of DVD - Europeans (especially in the UK, France, Germany and Spain), the Japanese, and Australians have been buying DVDs in record numbers. When they look at the growth Internationally things are on course to reach 'parity' with the US in terms of DVD adoption soon. It's a huge deal and it's got many of the studios thinking globally with their DVD releases.

This is actually very good news for DVD consumers outside of the US. While many studios have played around with pricing schemes and rental windows, the cold hard numbers are showing them that when they release DVDs for sell through first and foremost, they end up selling more DVDs. So look for International DVD events like Harry Potter on big titles and less of a patchwork release strategy for the rest.

DVD For Sale - 'The Horse Has Left The Barn'
Many US DVD consumers have long feared that once DVD got going, movie studios would revisit the 'rental pricing' model so well ingrained in the VHS industry. Well I'm glad to report that the topic of 'rental pricing' is now a dead one! Studios have gotten the religion of sell through price DVDs and realize there's no turning back. And why should they want to? DVD is selling far better than VHS ever did, and that's very much related to the fact that DVD is truly a collectible format. DVD is something that you'd WANT to build a library with and with great added features, there's reason to go back and revisit a DVD several times over the years. The Home Video industry is in a 'boom cycle' because of DVD and it was clear that no one is going to be messing with success any time soon.

Video Killed The Radio Star but DVD hasn't Killed VHS
With speaker after speaker exalting the greatness of DVD and the DVD market, it would be easy to get the impression that DVD has killed VHS and VCRs, but that simply isn't the case. Sales figures for VCRs' and VHS (while on the decline) still represent a lions share of the Home Video market, and when the topic turned to 'Recordable DVD' it became VERY clear that DVD won't be a widespread recordable format for quite some time (so don't throw out your VCR yet). If you do look out a number of years (say 2006) DVD does ultimately have it's 'victory' over VHS as it's projected to take over a whopping 80% of the home video industry, and as I mentioned above, Internationally it's an even more impressive picture.

But When Will I Be Able to Record on To DVD?!?
Recordable DVD is definitely a good news, bad news situation. The good news is that there are a number of companies hard at work to enable you to buy a DVD player which can record to DVD. (There are a few recorders on the market now, but in such small numbers and high prices, it's hard to say DVD Recording has 'arrived'). Even better news is the fact that DVD Recorders will look to be extremely full featured including doing things like 'time shift' (ie allow you to watch a program from the start which is in the middle of recording). Unfortunately, the bad news is that Recordable DVD hasn't gotten off to the same great start as DVD and with the market exploding there's a LOT of disagreement on exactly how Recordable DVD will make its way into your living room.

DVD came to life out of a pretty remarkable cooperation between movie studios and hardware companies, and the genius of it was that somehow they all agreed on one single universal format. Recordable DVD doesn't have that same rosey history as it has started with many competing formats (DVD-R, DVD-RAM, DVD-RW) which are incompatable and the 'stakeholders' involved in crafting the platform can't agree - ESPECIALLY over the issue of 'Digital Rights Management' (that's copy protection to you and me).

I sat through a panel on 'Digital Rights Management' where some of the panelists tried to justify proposed copy protection schemes. It was absurd to hear some of the panelists try to justify some of the studio views on copy protection, as they plot a future of incompatabilites and viewing limitations all in the name of protecting viewers from violating their viewing license. Can you imagine a world where you record a pay-per-view movie to watch later and the DVD would only let you watch it ONCE? Well that's the license that you get when you buy a pay-per-view and studios are under the impression that Recordable DVDs should enforce that!?! Give me a break!

How About That Blue Laser Thing?
Unfortunately a similar environment that exists for Recordable DVD surrounds the discussion of the next generation of DVD. At this point there are several possible formats which are being investigated for the next generation of DVD, probably called HD-DVD. One is the well publicized 'Blue Laser' format, another uses 'Red Lasers' (what you've got in your DVD Player now). All the future formats are aimed at getting more information onto a DVD so it can deliver High Definition picture and sound. One interesting point is that HD-DVDs won't necessarily mean more special features (actually it could mean less) as early specs for HD-DVD look to have the movies picture chew up a great deal of the new found space.

DVD and Music
While I didn't have an opportunity to sit through the late afternoon session on DVD-Audio, I did want to note something that really impressed me. At the awards dinner John Beug from Warner Bros Records came up to accept an award and he stated something about music and DVD that I thought was profound (it was his entire speech): "DVD IS the future of music, period'. So while DVD-Audio may not be taking off as quickly as studios may have hoped, look for music and DVD to come together in a big way in the not so distant future.

DVD's F Word
Of all the segments of DVD's discussed during the day, the one which was talked about the most was the Family segment. Studios are extremely interested in building up the Family end of DVD as they see it a key component to continue to bring DVD into the mainstream. So look for a great deal of Family content coming to DVD in the month ahead and studios spending more and more of their time and attention on making Family programming a key element in the DVD marketplace.

Not So Special Features
When asked about new features studios envision on DVD, panelists uniformly replied that they were looking less at 'inventing' new features for DVD, but rather concentrating on making the Special Features on DVDs better. Over the past year there has been a real race to see how many special features people can cram on the DVD. Studios are now looking at kicking off work for DVDs much earlier in the creative process and get the making-of and supporting material on the front end, rather than scrounging up what they can after a film has released. It's very clear the DVD has really caught on in the creative community in Hollywood, so look for much better all-around supporting content with Directors and Actors who are much more prepared to be involved with the things that go on the DVD.

The Rise and Fall of Audio Commentaries
One of the more interesting panels of the conference came out of a session that I thought would be the biggest disappointment. Scheduled to appear on the panel were Kevin Smith, John Singleton, Frank Darabound, Vicki Jensen, Nicholas Meyer and Allan Moyle. Much to my chagrin the panel ended up being just Nicholas Meyer (Wrath of Kahn/Time after Time) and Allan Moyle (Empire Records/Pump Up The Volume) and Kevin Reily (a producer on Empire Records). After getting over my disappointment over the notable no shows, I got hooked into a fantastic discussion between Nicholas Meyer and Allan Moyle each taking a completely different approach to a 'Director's Cut'.

One thing that DVD has brought the world is an endless series of 'definitive cuts.' There often are so many different versions of movies it's hard to say what's 'The Film'. Is the film what played in theaters or is it what is in the brain of the Director? Meyer made an interesting point about the flood of audio commentaries: he basically said that his job as a director is to make a film where the film can speak for itself, so why should he sit and yap over his film when in fact he'd rather have people watch his film. Moyle made an interesting point about the ability for him as a Director to go back in and recut his film to match what he had originally invisioned, and restore the film that for one reason or another got cut for theatrical release. Moyle also spoke to the fact that audio commentaries allow you to do things for the fans of a film that nothing else can, and he plans to have a teen trivia track on the upcoming Empire Records DVD with the possibility of 30 additional minutes of footage.

One of the most interesting points to come out of the debate/dialogue is the origin of Audio Commentaries. Basically, commentaries came out of Laser Disc, mostly due to the fact that the budgets to produce the Laser Discs didn't generally provide enough money to do a tremendous amount of making-of/documentaries and commentaries emerged as an affordable means to give a look into the behind the scenes of a film. Now with more attention and resources being paid to DVD, the capability to SHOW the process gets better and better and in some ways could supplant some commentaries. Food for thought.

The 4th Quarter
There was a great deal of talk through out the conference about the number of big DVD releases in the latter part of 2002. While we don't have a comprehensive list of all the titles, I thought I'd leave you with the ones which were discussed at the Conference:

Fox: Star Wars II - Attack of The Clones. Confirmed for Q4 2002
Artisan: Glengarry Glen Ross - with Reunion Documentary, Director's Commentary, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1
Columbia Tri-Star - MIB II, Spiderman, Trapped, Master of Disguise, XXX, Stuart Little 2, Panic Room

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