Widescreen: Licensing the answer?

James Reader

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I've touched upon this in a couple of threads, but so far have had no responses

The way I see it there are three reasons why the major studios do not wish to publish duel releases of DVDs:
1. They do not see the cost of mastering, pressing, promoting and managing a separate widescreen release as financially viable. This is because they maintain that the vast majority of purchases either prefer the ‘full frame’ version or have not strong feelings on the matter and would be perfectly happy with a P&S release.
Don’t forget the cost of administering duel releases must also include dealing with angry customer complaints, customer returns and shop returns.
2. They do not want to put both widescreen and P&S releases on the same disc because they either wish to overload the disc with worthless ‘promotional’ supplements or they do not wish to remove the label by making the disc double sided. While many may scoff at this last observation, do not underestimate the attractiveness of a clear, visually pleasing image to the average customer. I also believe that studios do not want to include duel discs with a version of the film on each for the simple reason that customers could buy one package and give a disc to a friend, thus potentially using a significant number of sales.
3. They do not wish to create new transfers when older transfers are perfectly acceptable when releasing catalog titles. Especially if said catalog titles are to be released as part of a ‘budget’ or ‘mid-price’ range of discs.
As has been stated many times in the past, when issues such thorny issues as region encoding, unreleased classics and even box cover art, the studios own the films and can do what they want with them. In fact, many of the HTF members have argued this at many times in the past when such issues as ‘extended editions’ and ‘alternative cuts’ have been brought up.
Sadly, we don’t have a legal leg to stand on. Neither do the vast majority of actors and work-for-hire directors. The studios own the property and can release them when they want, in what format they want and at whatever price they want. While it is true that we can put pressure on the studios, I really cannot see it having much of an effect, as when all is said and done the only thing that matters is profit.
However, I have another solution – one that takes into account all of points 1-3 above and TURNS THEIR OWN EXCUSES AGAINST THEM. And what is this solution? Simple, licensing!
Remember the golden days of Laserdisc. Remember the stunning releases from Criterion, Image and others? Notice how hard it is for such companies to licence titles now that the studios have jumped on the DVD bandwagon? Why can’t such a partnership be formed again, being as the studios obviously see
I suggest that our campaign is fundamentally flawed. We are arguing for the wrong action. No major studio is going to want to release two transfers of each title when such an action will result in a significant slowing in the rate and number of releases. Multiple releases cost both time and money. We should instead be using the studio’s explanations and excuses against them. Look at the interview with the Disney employee on The Digital Bits. We should be trapping the studios with their own logic.
They don’t want to release a widescreen version because they don’t think it will be profitable enough? Fine let someone PAY THEM A FEE and release their own version.
They don’t want to deal with customer confusion, complaints and returns? Fine, let the widescreen version have the phone number and address OF THE LICENSEE published on the packaging and let them deal with customer problems.
Shops refuse to carry widescreen films? No longer a studio concern, the problem is OFFLOADED ONTO THE LICENSEE.
Every excuse that they can come-up with can be negated with licensing.
While licensing would work exceptionally well for the vast majority of catalog titles, new releases would cause more problems where special features would be harder to obtain, but this would probably be a minor irritant as most of the big releases DO have duel transfers available.
It may mean that we may have to wait an extra 4-6 months for the licensed release should one be required, but in the end I feel the wait will be worth it. Besides, we would still have a steady rate of releases to keep us occupied. After all, wouldn't you rather have a Criterion release of titles such as 'In the Bedroom', 'Iris' or even 'Harry Potter'?
 

James Reader

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Over 150 views, and not one reply.

I FEEL LIKE I'M TAKING CRAZY PILLS HERE!

Does no one have anything to say?

DVD is a mass market medium now, and like the days of VHS, the studios simply want to get product out which will appeal to the majority of customers.

There is nothing more to say. Any arguments or statements you make will simply be countered by the studio's and their 'research findings'. And, don't fool yourselves, they *will* have the figures to back their decisions up (even if the method of obtaining these statistics is somewhat dubious to say the least), and will be in a postion to mark us down as 'geeky fanatics' to the media should they become involved.

I see the only solution is to turn the studio's arguments against them. As I stated in my initial post, any reason for not releasing widescreen films, give support for licensing!

This is what we need to do - get a definitive list of reasons why the studios are not releasing widescreen and they ask them why they can't license out the titles to companies who will.

Can you imagine how badly it would reflect on a studio like Disney if we manage to get some air time on TV, debating with a studio executive. When they cite lack of demand for widescreen titles, how can they counter when asked "So if your not going to release a widescreen version as you think the small number of sales hold little financial incentive, why not license the rights to a company who would be more than happy not only to release a widescreen edition of the film, but also pay you for the privilege?"

We all know that if the studio's announced they they would be willing to license out a bulk of their old films, publishers like Criterion, Image and Anchor Bay would be after them in an instant.
 

Joseph DeMartino

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I also believe that studios do not want to include duel discs with a version of the film on each for the simple reason that customers could buy one package and give a disc to a friend, thus potentially using a significant number of sales.
They can't have it both ways. Either there is a significant number of people who prefer the widescreen version or this is a non-issue. If most people hate letterbox, they aren't going to take a free letterboxed disc, either. The obvious solution, especially given the slow, but steady, increase in the number of widescreen sets in American homes thanks to HDTV, is for the studios to finally start using the "pan and scan on-the-fly" capability that was built into the DVD spec from the beginning to deal with exactly this issue.

Regards,

Joe
 

James Reader

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They can't have it both ways. Either there is a significant number of people who prefer the widescreen version or this is a non-issue.
Sadly it's not as simple as black and white.

Why haven't Warners released Babylon 5 season sets? There's been plenty of petitions and noise in fan circles, and nothing has been announced. True, they may be working on it now as I type, but lets assume not.

Warner know that they can make a profit on 'Babylon 5' sets - no matter what you may think, they are not stupid. The question, what will make a bigger profit - season sets of 'Babylon 5' or releases like 'Training Day', 'Swordfish', or even 'Friends' sets? Time and effort spent working on 'Babylon 5' means no time to work on these releases.

The same is true for OAR releases - Pan and Scan on the fly, duel transfers on double sided discs, DVD18, duel SKUs. They all take time and effort to administer.

I'm sure the studios are aware that MAR releases will loose some sales, but the question that they are asking is 'will the additional sales of a OAR release make a significant profit over the cost of the additional investment in creating a second transfer? or would we make a bigger profit assigning those resources onto creating the next new release instead?"

Now, while I am admittedly pessimistic, it is possible that online campaigns may convince the studios that the extra time and effort is worth it. However I feel it is more than likely that they will be happy to walk away from a small number of lost sales if it means that they can release more titles per year.

This is why I think we should be pushing for studios to license out their catalog. Let someone else do the work creating a widescreen transfer. If their is as little demand for widescreen as the studio's insist, licensing should be the non-issue, not duel releases.
 

Joseph DeMartino

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B5 said:
2) WHV figured out a long time ago that what fans were agitating for were season boxed sets in widescreen (preferably anamorphic, which ruled out using the existing PAL widescreen transfers) at a minimum, with some extras probably being required. At that point, no one had ever done a full-season set on DVD. WHV was skeptical about TV shows on home video period and seeing that Paramount was not breaking sales records with Star Trek (one of the few shows to break the "TV Shows don't sell" rule) didn't reassure them. This led them to cancelling their original 1999 plan for a DVD release.
3) The VHS sales in the U.S. tanked after a strong start.
4) There was no way that WHV could invest the money for new widescreen transfers for a full 22-episode season of a minor cult success that had flopped on VHS. OTOH, they knew they couldn't sell the show on DVD in full frame.
Various of WHV's problems were solved by others. Fox launched The X-Files on DVD with surprising success. The Sci-Fi Channel decided to air B5 in widescreen, which meant that Warner Bros. television had to cough up the money for new widescreen transfers. They made the transfers suitable for HDTV, which automatically meant that they were suitable as source material for anamorphic widescreen DVDs. The rest of the industry began to see full-season sets as the way to go for TV series.
Finally the success of the first movie disc overcame their fear that the market for B5 on DVD would be too small to make the show profitable.
So yes, WHV has taken an extremely long time to respond to fan pressure for a DVD release, but at every step of the way there were understandable (if not always persuasive) business reasons for doing what they did. Now that the obstacles have been removed, they are proceeding.
I think the increasing use of widescreen on television (of which DVD itself is a part) will gradually lead to grudging acceptance (if not enthusiasm) on the part of the mass audience, and reduce the problem that we're seeing now. What may be very likely, in the near-term, is something like the old VHS/LD split: A P&S movie-only release for the mass-market, followed by a high end (and more expensive) special edition widescreen release for cinephiles. The difference now is that the cinephile market is much larger, mostly thanks to DVD. If the studios could profitably release widescreen laser discs during the DVD era (which entailed all the problems you mention in the case of dual-inventory for DVD and then some) why couldn't they profitably sell widescreen SEs to the much-larger DVD audience that wants them?
Regards,
Joe
 

Glenn Overholt

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I'm beginning to believe that there is another factor that we don't know about yet, as I will try to explain.

This is what doesn't make sense to me, and should be asked to the studios.

First, remastering for an OAR release is a non-issue. When the film is put into their 'mastering' machine from the actual film stock, it is already OAR, the remastering is done for the P&S version, so just pressing the 'run' button will get them out. The P&S'ing costs additonal money, so the P&S buyers should be paying more.

Two, liscensing is not a bad idea, but I think that the studios will be against it when they find out that the sales are higher than anyone expected. THE MSCL set is a perfect example of that. They received a lot more orders in a much shorter time period than they expected to.

Next, as I've stated before. The Matrix/Gladiators & TPM DVD's were only issued in widescreen. Ture, the sales were great, but we have no idea how many of them were returned. I have a feeling that the k-marts and such had a record number of returns on them. Not knowing what to do with them, I'm sure they complained.

Also, we need to figure out why some DVD's are released in P&S only, and others in both modes. Outside of the 'kiddle' flicks, there is something else that prompts them to release both instead of just one.

As for not stamping out both versions to save time so that they can get another one out and get their profits up, that is a total crock. If they wanted the profits up, they'd build more factories and issue everything right now.

Glenn
 

James Reader

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OK, so my example of 'Babylon 5' was poor (I suspected as much when I was typing it, knowing that there would be a knowledgeable fan out there somewhere
)
While the example I gave may be incorrect, I'm sure that there are a lot of titles stuck in DVD limbo as the projected profits are not large enough to justify release, and I'm convinced the same is true for dual transfer releases.
However, I must disagree with the following:
If the studios could profitably release widescreen laser discs during the DVD era (which entailed all the problems you mention in the case of dual-inventory for DVD and then some) why couldn't they profitably sell widescreen SEs to the much-larger DVD audience that wants them?
Firstly, a large number of titles, including high profile releases, were licensed out. Secondly, discs released cost a significant amount of money, thus generating larger profits.
I cannot see a studio releasing a 'collectors deluxe' DVD set for more than $50. Therefore, the incentive for such a release it reduced.
 

James Reader

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Mastering two transfers is not a non-issue. Mastering a film for DVD should include: multiple passes over the compression with manual tweaking to obtain optimum picture quality. In addition, subtitle tracks have to be proofed and tested, alternative soundtracks synchronized, menus created and tested on multiple machines etc. The additional cost may not be more than a few thousand dollars, but the additional cost is still there.

As for not stamping out both versions to save time so that they can get another one out and get their profits up, that is a total crock. If they wanted the profits up, they'd build more factories and issue everything right now.
Well, I'm sure that they would like to build more factories, every Christmas we hear how the pressing plants are booked to capacity.
 

Bjorn Olav Nyberg

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First, remastering for an OAR release is a non-issue. When the film is put into their 'mastering' machine from the actual film stock, it is already OAR, the remastering is done for the P&S version, so just pressing the 'run' button will get them out. The P&S'ing costs additonal money, so the P&S buyers should be paying more.
Are you sure about this? Unless they are transfering from theatrical reels, which I though was usually not done, there is still some job to be done, maybe depending on the way it was shot? For example I would think in the case of soft matte, there might actually be less work in creating a 4:3 transfer?

Just thinking loud, and probably a little Off topic as well...

Personally I think what James says makes sense, but even if P&S becomes the norm, obviously the studios still know there is a market for widescreen releases. And I also think the bigger releases will have widescreen releases. (Earlier on when P&S alarmists was put down, it was also remarked how VHS also had a lot of widescreen releases available)

Therefore I think getting a widescreen release somehow, through multiple studio releases or licensed releases, will still be possible. What worries me is if there will be certain exceptions anyway.
 

Adam_S

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Licensing won't work because the Studios DONT want a widescreen release because they NO LONGER want us (the 'philes) buying DVD. They want us to buy D-VHS or HD-DVD or whatever other new format that comes out and needs to be launched. No format will make it without the support of the type of people that congregate here, and studios want their investment in a new format to be a success, so they force us out of our DVD pasture to another by tempting us with what we want and neglecting what we already have available.

Look at it from their perspective, DVD is extraordinarily successful, the enthusiasts that made it such a success have wants that don't jive with say 90% of soccer moms. The solution is to banish them from DVD into a new format they'll just as happily put their money down for so they get their movies their way and Uncle sixpack sam gets his movies his way. Two separate formats, much less customer confusion. The studios make lots of money selling low quality (like you're going to tell the difference between a crappy transfer and a good one on a mono 25 inch GE tv with no RCA input), cheaply priced, but high volumes of titles. and even more money selling high quality, expensive, low volumes of titles. They see the long life of laser disc, indicative of what is possible with D-VHS.

Don't believe, scan a couple threads on the death of DVD you'll see several posts of various people already saying they don't care about DVD and are looking forward to DVHS or HDDVD. DVD is being dumbdowned and we're being evicted because we're too much trouble.

Bottom line we can't stay at the cheap, but nice Motel 6; we're now required to stay at Ritz.

Adam

(PS: even when the studios have offered to work with us to settle problems and accomadate our wants(Disney's offer to Ron), they were told to bugger off and let us have our screaming-whining-two-year-oldesque tantrum in peace without bothering us with details like actually making progress (that's probably the perspective the studio saw at least IMHO))
 

Derek Miner

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Two, liscensing is not a bad idea, but I think that the studios will be against it when they find out that the sales are higher than anyone expected. THE MSCL set is a perfect example of that. They received a lot more orders in a much shorter time period than they expected to.
That's actually a good thing. The only reason I see a studio objecting to a licensing agreement is because they think they could make money off such a release. That's why they haven't been doing much of it, yet. Just the fact that the My So-Called Life set happened and has been successful shows the studios that licensing agreements can work.
 

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