To be fair, I don't think Twilight Time themselves have ever said "once they're gone, they're gone." If you read their interview with HTF from a few years back, they've always made it clear that the licensing period is only three years, and only for the US. So it's been fairly obvious, especially with frequent releases of TT-licensed titles in other countries, that it was never strictly about this being your last, final, from now until the end of time chance to get a particular title on Blu.
It's more correct to say that given the limited release nature of TT titles, it's quite possible that it may be your only chance to own a title on Blu, as it may otherwise never be released elsewhere, or re-released by Twilight Time.
Thanks Koroush for reminding everyone about Adam Gregorich's 2011 HTF interview with Twilight Time's Nick Redman.
In recent days and weeks I have read so many out-of-left-field comments about TT's upcoming 4 reissues, not so much here but elsewhere, which just did not seem to jibe with what I recalled from that piece. I was especially nagged by a term Nick Redman used twice to describe TT's role: as a kind of "petri dish" experiment for the studios. Moreover, I couldn't recall anything from TT anywhere stating that a sold out title would never be re-issued...just that this would not (could not) occur for at least 3 years.
At the time of that interview, TT was licensing from only 2 studios, Fox and Sony, each with a slightly different approach and set of expectations. So it might be worth revisiting some key excerpts from that piece pertaining to (then hypothetical) re-releases*.
What TT's 3 year window would mean in practice:
HTF: Obviously you have licensed the specific number of units, but is there any timeframe associated with that? Could Sony, for instance come out with their own Columbia Classics Blu-ray of Mysterious Island tomorrow?
Not really, it wouldn't make sense. We said, “Look, it’ll be great if we sell out within a couple of months of releasing a title, but then if you turn around and license it to someone else, or if you do it yourself very shortly thereafter, you will undermine consumer confidence. Because when people are buying a limited edition, they don’t want it to come out again a few months after they bought it.”
So they agreed that if the title sold out very early it would lie dormant for three years. And then of course there are going to be other cases where we are going to get to the end of three years and find that we have not sold 3000 units. Whether it’s Fox or Sony, they will look at a title that hasn’t sold 3000 units in a three year period and there will never be any demand for that title again whether it’s a sublicense or whether the studio would want to do it themselves...
...In all honesty we cannot say that the studio will never reissue these titles in the future or that they won’t sublicense to another label down the line. What we can say is that won’t happen for a minimum of three years and likely longer, and even then it is very unlikely that the studio itself will do it. So only another sublicense is a possibility.
Specifically about their deal with Fox:
HTF: So if the consumer wants a title, just buy it.
Yes. And they can buy it with pretty good confidence that most of the titles that we are putting out will not come out again in the short term. What we can't guarantee is what the foreign territories do. Fox US doesn’t mandate what they do and there doesn’t seem to be much reciprocity between the international territories.
So therefore, as has just happened with The Egyptian, for example, Fox in Norway or somewhere can sublicense the title with another label and they can put out their own Blu-ray of The Egyptian. There is nothing we can do about that, we have no influence. But what we are saying is that in the US, Fox won’t do anything with our titles and Sony/Columbia won’t reissue our titles at the very least until after the minimum license period.
Specifically about their deal with Sony:
HTF: So how do you pick the titles that you will be releasing?
Our deal with Columbia is different. With Columbia the films that we are releasing are titles they have ready for Blu-ray but are not on their schedule. They are films that are already on DVD in the Columbia catalogue. They want us to focus on Blu-rays they seem to feel there isn't a market for themselves. So that is how we got things like Mysterious Island, Fright Night, Picnic and Pal Joey and other titles. We are happy in a way to be guinea pigs for the studio. If they want to know how something is selling, we will tell them. If we sold 200 copies of a title in the first six months that will tell them, boy, aren’t we glad we dodged the bullet and didn’t put that out! If we sold 3000 copies over a few weeks they might think down the line that one might be worth revisiting. So in a way we are kind of a petri dish for the studios, which is how we characterize it to them: as an experiment, a limited edition experiment to really test the waters for catalogue both on DVD and on Blu-ray. So far the DVD statistics seem to be quite weak. Some of the early titles that we put out on DVD are not selling encouragingly well, whereas the Blu-rays do seem to have a little bit more life to them.
Elaborating on why a studio might favour the TT "petri dish" for catalogue titles:
HTF: Unfortunately I think you are right. Now, obviously every studio is a little different and you can't speak for studios but Fright Night is a title where so many people have said, I don’t understand why Sony isn't releasing this. It would sell way more than 3000 titles. Based on your gut feeling and experience, what does a studio need to see in sales to decide that it’s worth it to release a title?
Let’s take a hypothetical and Fright Night is a good hypothetical. Let’s say that a studio says we have got this film that we made 26 years ago and a remake has just come out and we are going to assume that the remake will do decently well. So therefore we will piggy back on the remake when the remake goes to Blu-ray, we will do our Blu-ray of the title and we will go head to head with the remake and see what happens. In order to make it worth their while they would have to manufacture probably somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 units
The first thing they are going to do is look at the DVD sales and say well, this thing sells an average of 681 copies a year. If we have to go out with 100,000 units that might be a bit of a stretch for us, you know, because a lot of them are going to come back. Then they get their people selling it in to places like Wal-Mart and all of the chains, asking themto take 10,000. So in the end let’s say that they get orders for about 70 or 80,000 Fright Nights. Then they have to worry about how much money they are going to charge for it. If it’s only $7.99 or something like that, they are going to make pennies on the unit sale. If it fails they are going to get back 70,000 or 80,000 of the 100,000 units that they pressed to their warehouse where they are either destroyed or remaindered and written off for $1 each to a Wal-Mart-like entity where they then take a complete loss, and the title is further devalued.
Alternatively they can say to Twilight Time, why don’t you put it out in your limited edition format!
Being in business with us represents no risk. They get some money to show for the sale. And then they can try to use their market research to analyze what Twilight Time did or didn’t do with the title to see whether or not it’s worth doing again in the future. So again, like we said earlier, we’re sort of a petri dish. It is perfectly understandable why the studios are becoming increasingly reluctant to mass-produce catalogue titles in an ever more uncertain market.
Flash forward 3 years, and TT's "petri dish" experiment has resulted in 4 of their titles not only selling out fast enough for TT, but also performing well enough in the aftermarket to indicate some residual life. Yet as Nick Redman predicted (and significant vis-à-vis this discussion), it is interesting that the licensor studio(s) still don't want to run wider with those sold out titles - at least not in Region A.
Frankly, I don't see any discrepancy between what TT initially said they were going to do, and what they have actually done. I mean, they pretty much admitted up front that their fixed licensing costs, for a fixed number of units, over a fixed term meant they were obliged to take their cues from the studios (i.e. content owners) regarding the fate of a title once TT's 3 year license expired. After that window closed, there never was anything to prevent the studio from repatriating a title for wider release...or releasing it overseas at any point along the way...or even relicensing it to a competitor...and nothing at all said about TT choosing to re-license and re-issue select sold out titles because they can now include enhancements and/or features not available when originally released.
Nil. Nada. Nyet.
* all highlighting and underlining mine; see full interview for all comments in context.