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Resolving myself to this issue of Pan & Scan: Where we stand....

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154 replies to this topic

#1 of 155 Ronald Epstein

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Posted May 06 2002 - 11:07 PM

I had the opportunity to talk to someone
at one of the major studios yesterday afternoon.

The person's identity and their corresponding
studio will not be mentioned in this thread. I
can only tell you that the entire studio this
person represents faithfully reads this forum daily.
It was because of this, that this person took
the initiative to contact me and talk about my
controversial article:

Is DVD Giving Way to Mass-Market Demands?

A few things you should know about Hollywood first...

The people that run the DVD departments at most
of the major studios are all deep fans of the
format. These are generally young individuals,
with a fresh insight into what this format should
be all about. I have met many of these people, and
those I have not, I am generally conversing with
on the phone or email on a regular basis.

These people absolutely read this forum regularly.
When a controversial issue arises, I generally
receive a phone call or email from someone at the

In this case, the phone call came from an individual
who works directly in the DVD department at a major
studio. This individual, like all of you, has a
deep passion for this format and wished to discuss
the controversial article that was posted on our

The conversation was very spirited. I was talking
with someone who obviously had respect for what
was written, and wanted to offer a studio's
perspective on the pan-and-scan situation.

First and foremost, I think many of you will not
be too surprised to hear that the studios actually
agree with everything presented in the article.
There is no disagreement with the studios that
widescreen is the most important element to the
DVD format.

As many of you have pointed out, the problem is
absolutely the large discount chain retailers who
are taking the minority amount of complaints
from store to store and threatening to reduce their
overall purchase orders if Pan and Scan is not
offered. These stores have done their own extensive
surveys that show their customers prefer Pan & Scan
over widescreen. Of course, many of us wonder
why we have never been surveyed ourselves when we
walk in these stores, but let's just assume for now
that these are real figures.

The bottom line for the studios is selling product
and making money. A large discount retailer cutting
orders on widescreen titles poses a huge monetary
loss. This is why the studios are caving in to
retail demands. I did point out that any lost
sales at one store is only going to be gained
sales at another. Anyone that wants to buy a DVD
title who doesn't find it at (let's say) Walmart is
going to find it elsewhere. There really isn't a
threat of lost sales. The studio rep agreed that
this is an interesting debatable issue.

It was also brought up that until studios stop
releasing Pan & Scan product altogether, that our
forum really isn't fighting for anything that can
be won. With the exception of some family titles,
the studios are releasing 2 SKU versions of a title
to the public. This rep feels we aren't losing
anything, though readily agrees that putting Pan
and Scan in the public reach is a bad thing as it
doesn't help them accept widescreen.

From an insider's view, this rep told me that
family titles are still a hot issue when it comes
to pan and scan. The studios are somehow convinced
that children don't want black bars on their titles.
I pointed out that a survey on HOME THEATER FORUM
amongst parents revealed that children ask about
them, but afterwards, don't mind them at all. You
must realize that children are more readily accepting
to these black bars than adults are.

Unfortunately, the studios are still fighting to
continue offering family product in Pan & Scan only,
though there is always heated board room arguments
at the studios from those that are trying to stop
their studio elders from deciding to release P&S
only versions. Sometimes the fight is won, and
sometimes it is lost.

The studio rep offered some hope to all of us...

Digital television is on the rise. More people
are buying widescreen televisions every year. There
is a mandate by the government to go digital in
the next few years. At that point, as people buy
widescreen sets, Pan & Scan will no longer be an issue.
The studios will be in gear to release widescreen
to a public that owns the equipment to compliment
that format.

My Thoughts

I went into this issue with all guns loaded. I
was very pleased to have the support of this
membership behind me. I also am aware of many
of the feedback I received that supported the very
issues I commented on above.

Nothing that this studio rep told me is newsbreaking
to any of us. The bottom line is that DVD has
become mainstream. The purchase power is out of
the hands of early adopters and in the hands of
the general public, most of which will never come
to terms with black bars.

Talking with all the contacts I have at many of
Home Video departments, I know first hand that
They all don't agree with introducing Pan & Scan
to the market. On the other hand, arms are being
twisted in order to cave in to retailer demands.
It's almost impossible to become a rebel and thus
lose your job in the process.

I am not selling out on this issue. I still
feel very strongly for this cause, but sensibly
realize that it is a lost war. We cannot fight
to stop the studios from releasing Pan & Scan as
long as they continue to release TWO versions of
a title. We can, however, continue to make a lot
of noise when studios like DISNEY release family
titles or COLUMBIA releases more contemporary
titles in Pan & Scan only. That is a fight worth
fighting for.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner


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#2 of 155 Shayne Lebrun

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Posted May 06 2002 - 11:44 PM

It truly does sadden me to see that Wal-Mart has the authority to order around entire industries, but I guess the old adage of 'borrow a dollar, and the bank owns you; borrow a million, and you own the bank' can be easily adapted here.

Studios should consider two things; pricing P&S DVDs higher, to represent the cost of doing the conversion, and putting a more appropriate message at the front of the movie; instead of 'This movie has been altered to fit your screen' put something like 'Almost half of this movie has been removed, so that it is in the shape of a 'standard' television.

Also, does anybody have any statistics on the level of complaint about all the shows that are being broadcast in widescreen this season?

#3 of 155 Jeff


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Posted May 07 2002 - 12:25 AM

I know this has been said many times, but retailers like Wallmart are bluffing. If they tell the studios they will cut down on their orders, the studios should just let them. Once their DVD shelves start getting empty, it won't last long and then it will be the studios that have the power over the retailers.


#4 of 155 Deane Johnson

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Posted May 07 2002 - 12:31 AM

I have wondered if we are not directing our efforts to the wrong place. Would we be better off pushing on the retailers. Wal-Mart especially is sensitive to negative publicity. Perhaps we should start an email campaign to the corporate offices of Wal-Mart. Perhaps a combined email/phone call campaign. Something that might get picked up by the media.

The more negative publicity we could generate for Wal-Mart, the more likely it would be that they might ease up on the studios. Especially, if they realized it was going to remain a thorn in their side.

Wal-Mart operates in the realm of the lowest common denominator, both customer wise and merchandise wise. I hate to see them get by with dragging DVD down to their level.


#5 of 155 Brett Miles

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Posted May 07 2002 - 12:36 AM

The bottom line is that DVD has become mainstream

What I find amusing is that we haven't seen the upside of this "mainstreaming" that everyone talked about a couple of years ago. We still don't have Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, etc. I suppose prices are lower in some cases, but certainly not enough for me (or any of us?)to rejoice in the status of the format. I was kind of worried that our favorite studio rep had deserted us with his seeming lack of participation on this issue and in general. Hopefully this unnamed contact is who I think it is.

#6 of 155 SteveK


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Posted May 07 2002 - 12:41 AM

Ron- I am somewhat encouraged by your report. At least it seems that the studios PREFER widescreen over P&S. Unfortunately, right now consumers and giant retail chains seem to be making a lot of noise for P&S, which perhaps is too loud to be ignored. Although it is perhaps somewhat of a compromise to have dual releases or titles with both formats on one disc, certainly that is far more acceptable than P&S only. As long as the studios prefer WS, I think we're safe for a while.

I also agree that the standard disclaimer should be modified as suggested above. If the warning message clearly explained EXACTLY what "formatted to fit your screen" really means, I think more people would at least be willing to give WS a try. And having WS available along with P&S (rather than a separate release) would make that "experiment" easier.

I'm glad that your earlier battle cry got the attention of the various studios, but I think your current stance is more realistic. As long as the studios don't abandon WS, I can live with P&S versions being available. But I can guarantee that you'll never find a P&S only title sitting on my DVD shelves.

Steve K.

#7 of 155 Matthew_S


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Posted May 07 2002 - 12:47 AM

The bottom line for the studios is selling product
and making money. A large discount retailer cutting
orders on widescreen titles poses a huge monetary

I think this about says it all. Who cares about original theatrical presentation issues? Not the studio!! They need more money!! And a huge loss compared to what? I'm sure DVD has exceeded any studio's wildest dreams in regards to revenue. I would like for once for a big corporation to take and stand and not worry just about the bottom line. People would buy widescreen if that's the only choice they had. DVD rose up when widescreen was the only choice. It's just that MORE money could be made trying to placate everyone. It's really depressing how money rules. Greed is good.

#8 of 155 RobertCharlotte


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Posted May 07 2002 - 12:48 AM

Ron, thanks for the update.

#9 of 155 Lars Vermundsberget

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Posted May 07 2002 - 01:01 AM

First of all, I agree that this report is somewhat more encouraging than discouraging.


Quote: "With the exception of some family titles,
the studios are releasing 2 SKU versions of a title
to the public. This rep feels we aren't losing
anything, though readily agrees that putting Pan
and Scan in the public reach is a bad thing as it
doesn't help them accept widescreen."

It has been brought up quite a few times here that studios ought to include on DVDs a short "educational piece" explaining the "black bars" to the public. Has this been brought thoroughly to the studios' attention? It could seem like "this rep" wouldn't have too much against such an arrangement.

#10 of 155 Jay E

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Posted May 07 2002 - 01:04 AM

That's nice to hear, but whatever the studios say, we all know this boils down to money. The studios want to minimize costs and maximize profit. That's why Walmart has them tied around their fingers, they are afraid of losing even a single dollar. The thing is, in the long run, they are losing money on potential sales to OAR enthusiasts. All the studios need to do then is release both P&S and OAR versions on one DVD. But studios like Columbia & Disney are just going with this shortsighted, dollar maximizing approach of releasing one version, I have nothing but contempt for the way they are marketing their product.

#11 of 155 Joseph Bolus

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Posted May 07 2002 - 01:16 AM


I really wish you had asked the studio rep if they had ever considered utilizing the DVD hardware "P&S ON-THE-FLY" function.

That way they can simply provide one anamorphic widescreen transfer and satisfy all parties involved.

It should be a perfect solution for films presented in the 1.66:1 through 1.85:1 aspect ratios, which should cover the majority of "family" films.

If this option has been considered by the studio and rejected, then I think we would all at least like to hear the reason for the rejection.

#12 of 155 Deane Johnson

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Posted May 07 2002 - 01:28 AM

The whole problem would quickly go away if the P&S versions were priced higher than the widescreen versions.


#13 of 155 Justin Pledger

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Posted May 07 2002 - 01:32 AM

Interesting - although I would be even more interested to know who you were talking to and which studio - if they are happy to talk to the owner of a forum then I would have thought that they should be happy to proffer their support for the widescreen format here, especially as this is essentially a niche site. But then if they are in danger of losing their jobs by offering support how far involved are they in the decision making process? Not far it would seem.
Whilst I too am a supporter of widescreen it does seem rather obvious as to what the arguments for and against are. It's not rocket science after all and it seems clear to me that market forces will dictate, as always, the future. But I am unsure how much these posts and secret conversations ultimately help.
Whilst we can make our voices head ultimately it will be a commercial decision driven by the majority - not the minority. So tell all your friends and neighbours and colleagues and so on and extol the virtues of widescreen - educate and aim to become the majority. The studios are there to sell a product and the money is re-invested into the industry which makes DVD a possibility in the 1st place. I would hate P&S releases - despise them in fact but am also aware that this is a commercial decision first and foremost and understandably so.

#14 of 155 Malcolm R

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Posted May 07 2002 - 01:34 AM

I wish they'd realize that it is not children who are buying the "family" titles. I don't think I've ever seen a kid walk up to the cash register and plunk down $20 out of their own pocket for, say, "Max Keeble's Big Move."

Of the parents who buy these titles for their kids, many of them prefer OAR. There are a lot of child-free people who also enjoy these movies and prefer OAR. I have no children, but I enjoy many "family" type movies. I collect a lot of animated films, enjoy the Muppets, and am looking forward to "Harry Potter." But I won't buy any of them if they're P&S (like the upcoming Muppet releases are rumored to be).

Note to Disney & Henson if you're reading: I own "The Muppet Movie," "The Great Muppet Caper," "The Muppets Take Manhattan," and "Muppets in Space." However, unless they're OAR "Muppet Treasure Island" and "Muppet Christmas Carol" will NOT enter my home.
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#15 of 155 Robert Harris

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Posted May 07 2002 - 01:50 AM

While it is certainly possible to enlarge on the fly, ie show only the center of an image, cropping the sides via a zoom function -- this will not serve as pan and scan, which (when done correctly) selects the area of the frame to be viewed.

Unless there is a means of encoding the software with a video version of the old audio system Perspecta, which via a control tone moved theatre audio from one speaker position to another in an attempt to create budget stereo, what one would end up with are the wonders of classic idiotic pan and scan which gave us wonderful shots like Mrs. Robinson's knee and Ben's nose in The Graduate, and the wonderful initial shot of the desert in Lawrence, in which the scan remains on the match which Lawrence has blown out, and as the music builds...

never moves over to center position to enable the viewing of the sunrise.

I continue to believe that video is not film. It is a different product.

And there is a place for OAR and for pan and scan within the home video universe, as long as pan and scan is used with a bit of brainpower in its creation.

Are there certain films which should not be pan and scanned?


Because it damages the artistry of the film.

But for many, it provides another product (acutally by-product) of masters created for cable or network television -- if the audience wishes it.

As has been mentioned above, as more widescreen hardware makes its way into the world, this will become less of a problem,, but in the meantime as we attempt to educate the wider audience, there is no reason why pan and scan cannot sit (in a seperate section?) nearby the OAR discs in various stores.


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence

#16 of 155 Michael St. Clair

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Posted May 07 2002 - 01:52 AM

Anyone that wants to buy a DVD title who doesn't find it at (let's say) Walmart is going to find it elsewhere. There really isn't a threat of lost sales. The studio rep agreed that this is an interesting debatable issue.

Many people only buy brick-and-mortar, and in rural America, the 'Wal-Marts' of retailers are the only place with a decent DVD selection.

Digital television is on the rise. More people are buying widescreen televisions every year. There is a mandate by the government to go digital in the next few years.

Ah, but 'digital television' includes 4:3 480i. DTV assumes that people with cable television and satellite can keep their old TVs, and the rest can buy a settop box; one that may output HDTV and/or may downconvert everything to 4:3 480i. 'HDTV' is optional, and ultimately, acceptance will be determined by the marketplace.

At that point, as people buy widescreen sets,

Not all DTV sets are widescreen.

Pan & Scan will no longer be an issue.

People who demand cropping today will demand everything be cropped to 16:9. The vast majority of films shot in all movie history were not shot in 16:9.

Not to mention that it could be 20 years before the majority of american homes have a widescreen television.

#17 of 155 Chuck Mayer

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Posted May 07 2002 - 02:07 AM

Believe it or not, the 'war' is not lost. Just the battle. I honestly feel that the stalwarts for P&S are not young. The youth market is saturated with the black bars...they define scope and status. The expensive music videos have them, the right people consider them hip, heck, video games often have widescreen options...these people are the future of the market. They will choose Widescreen, given the choice. I honestly think we are closer than one generation away. It's ugly, and we might have to deal with it. But in time, it will go away on it's own. The kids will be consumers in ten years.

Until then, we just need to ensure there are no P&S only releases. Sign the petitions, make the phone calls, give them our voice. It's big enough to make a difference. And above all, don't preach widescreen, teach widescreen. Support young enthusiasts, answer questions, and don't act elitist...act like you want them in the club. Because we do.

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#18 of 155 Dave Scarpa

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Posted May 07 2002 - 02:12 AM

I still do not under stand then why not appease all and offer like MGM and Columbia do, both version on the same disk, retailers and black bar haters are satified, and we get an anormorphic WS version. Problem solved. What's the Big Deal ?
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#19 of 155 Glenn Overholt

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Posted May 07 2002 - 02:17 AM

Thank you very much for the update. Unfortunately, it doesn't clarify much of anything for me. If a studio issues 50 DVD's per year, and 5 of them are 'family' titles, I am led to believe that the other 45 will be run in WS and P&S, and the 5 only in P&S?

What's the problem? Why change the production run just for those 5 titles? If Walmart wants these 5 titles on their shelves, the person that orders them would just 'check off' the P&S version, and that's all that store will get. In the meantime, we would still be able to get the WS versions at either specialty stores or via the net.

Also, and I did mention this last year, I think we would be better off finding out why WS sets in the US are not available in smaller sizes. (Our members across the pond have the opposite problem, which infuriates me).

The Walmart crowd will not plunk down 2 grand or more for a TV. At best they will only spend $500 or so. We might say that the 'middle class' in the US is a minorty now, and that leaves just the upper class and the lower class. The upper class won't have any problem spending 2k on a TV, but the lower class will.


#20 of 155 John Berggren

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Posted May 07 2002 - 02:22 AM

How could we change WalMart's mindset? Can Walmart's perspective be changed? Does anyone know contact numbers where we can bother Walmart every time a split release comes out where the carry only the pan and scan version?

I do need to fight several of the films that have been announced as pan and scan only. A few of them are films that I would like to own, but will not because I only buy widescreen.

I only own 2 films in pan and scan. Lilies, which I preorderred not knowing it had been massacred, and Matilda, which my partner "had to have". I'm still seeking a rerelease of each title. I will not have my collection tainted further. It's terribly unfortunate that there are films I want on Pan and scan DVD that I cannot buy because they are not OAR.
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