April Foolishness

We’re into Day 3, and many more reports (1 - 2 - 3) have trickled in regarding Fox' bungling of their Slumdog Millionaire DVD, wherein the special features laden retail edition contains a bare bones rental edition meant for the rental market.

(Affected buyers can call 1-888-223-4FOX for support, or go to the help page http://www.slumdogdvd/ and answer a handful of 'Are you sure you have the right DVD?' Q&A, in spite of there being no other standard DVD release on this continent. Ahem.)

The mere existence of a split-runs between Blu-ray, retail sales, and a new rental version begs the question: What the hell for?

Here's the corporate logic: rental stores will have the option to carry both bare bones and loaded retail editions for the same wholesale price. The rental edition offers just the movie (plus coming attractions/also available on DVD trailers). If customers like the film, the thinking is they'll buy the retail edition.

Now… why would someone spend more money (say $25) on a film they just saw (say $4.50 for the rental fee)? Are they going to watch it again? Or is that extra fee just to check out the extras they would've liked to have seen had that film been available for rent?

The bungling of an Oscar-winning (THE Oscar-winning film) of the year is pretty stupendous, and has caught Fox way off guard. From a retailer’s stand, this is a bit of a mess, because opened, used, and store-branded stock generally can’t be returned for credit.

Does the retailer offer refunds to customers who rented the title, believing they were renting a special edition as stated on the box ad copy? Will rental shops have to keep a tally of voided rentals, and will that loss be compensated by Fox?

And in terms of replacing the bungled copies, how does a retailer or rental house get the proper retail version when no one knows what’s inside the retail box until it’s been opened? Given no replacement copies in full packaging are currently available (or guaranteed to be in the proper special edition case), it seems Fox may well be stuck repressing and (re)packaging the entire North American run, which is substantive.

Can it succeed?

The mere offering of a split-run standard DVD release is an artificial trend that can only succeed if A) more retailers feel their customers don’t care about special editions and ‘just want to see the movie’; B) a dwindling retail market demand for special editions can be offset by the strange faith in a sudden surge of consumers wanting movie-only editions; and C) a growing segment of renters will actually drop $25-$30 on the special edition after having just seen the film.

From a rental/retailer stand, should a rental house offer some kind of credit system to motivate customers to double-dip and buy the special edition after renting the bare bones edition? And will merchants get a discount or rebate from their distributor or Fox for offering a credit?

There’s no reason for a rental edition to exist. NONE. And what ought to come from this debacle is the end of this concept before it goes wider, and adds more shelf clutter.

Unfortunately, split run editions are not new.

Not an old idea

During the era of laserdiscs, Universal, like several studios, pressed widescreen and full screen editions of high profile films like Jurassic Park; Criterion themselves offered bare bones CLV and loaded CAV editions.

Universal's decision was an attempt to meet the demand of cineastes as well as average consumers then unaccustomed to black bars from letterboxed films. Fast-forward to 2009, and one can only buy widescreen TV sets - a signal that people eventually (and some begrudgingly) accepted the demise of 4x3 TV sets and non-anamorphic transfers.

Criterion's ploy wasn't all that different from their 2008 decision to release a budget line of classic films otherwise available as expensive special editions. In Criterion's case (read here), the difference between a special edition can sometimes be $15-$20 or more, so the savings for people with budgets and who 'just want to see the movie' is substantial and justifies the film-only release.

One can even credit Warner Bros. for having done the same with their multi-disc Wizard of Oz set and basic single disc edition, as well as the reasonable price difference between the standard DVD special editions and Blu-ray editions of classic films. (But the beefy pricing for the upcoming Blu-ray Oz and Gone With The Wind is excessive. I mean, we're in a recession, you know.)

Why then has the related trend of adding a Digital Copy on a separate DVD become so pronounced with major films, and given labels another excuse to create split runs where the price point gap is negligible?

Variation on an old theme

Labels have taken a negative - loss of revenue from illegal copies of blockbuster films - and turned it into a value added feature. The problem? How important is having a digital copy of a major film one can only play on the one allowable computer or device after online registration?

If one can't bounce it from one's computer to one's laptop, then the amount of times that film will get watched - compared to the regular DVD - is, what, once? Twice? Maybe three times, just because it's there on the hard drive and it's a rainy day?

Single DVDs holding a Digital Copy are blatant landfill material. The recent announcement that Warners' standard DVD of He's Just Not That Into You will make a Digital Copy available via download is a smarter step, but the Digital Copy is also what the labels are using to keep the concept of split-run lines alive and well.

Why would someone not buy the special edition instead of a bare bones release if the difference can be as little as $2-$4?

Both the bare bones rental version some labels are toying with (Slumdog Millionaire) and the bare bones retail version (Marley and Me) that are cluttering up retail shelves are leftovers of an old marketing tactic that's probably not going to create significant revenue, because viewing habits have changed.

It's like how TV networks were tightly holding onto the old ad revenue streams when people began to download shows without commercials, and the computer screen, laptop, netbook, iPod and whatever multimedia player were becoming the preferred viewing medium instead of sitting in a chair, waiting for the show to begin on TV at the appointed hour.

I know I'm ignoring videotape and one's ability to shuttle past ads, but that method mandated setting a timer and having to skip past ads while watching TV in the living room. The shift to watching programming on every kind of portable or alternative digital device without ads is here to stay and will probably become even more diverse and eccentric.

A Digital Copy, if it must exist on a physical medium, should be included with a DVD's extra features. Make it as standard as a commentary track, so consumers can choose to watch or hear the features they're most interested in, and get rid of the bare bones edition that saves one a minor sum. If the labels are heartfelt about split run editions, then make the special edition $25, and the bare bones $9.95 - so the latter is cheap, and it's guaranteed to appeal to consumers wanting the movie because that's all they have time for, or interest to watch.

And for retailers and rental shops, labels should make the bare bones discs $4.95 - so damn cheap, it's worth it for the major chains - or just get rid of a really, really dumb idea that has no resale value, leaves rental shops with wasteful product, and leaves distributors in the middle: to the left are confused and upset merchants, and to the right a label unable to provide any clear solution to a tactic as dumb as DIVX (Digital Video Express), which sure improved Circuit City's status and longevity in the industry.

One standard DVD release, and whatever fits in a single or double disc set.

And leave it the hell alone.



Copyright © mondomark