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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Does an on-demand DVD business make sense?

Warner Bros. this week launched the Warner Archive Collection, an on-demand DVD service that USA Today described this way:

[F]ans eventually will be able to order any of the 6,800 theatrical features in the studio’s library not available on disc and receive a custom-made DVD within a week for $20.

Only about 1,200 films in the Warner library have been released on DVD, large part because of space constraints at retail….

[The collection launched] with an initial slate of 150 films that have never been on DVD, such as 1943’s Mr. Lucky, with Cary Grant and Laraine Day, and 1962’s All Fall Down with Warren Beatty and Eva Marie Saint. The oldest film in this first wave is the 1923 silent scorcher Souls for Sale; the newest is 1986’s Wisdom, with Demi Moore and Emilio Estevez.

Plans call for 20 or more classic films and TV shows to be added each month, Feltenstein says. To order films, consumers go to the website, select titles and place orders, which are manufactured and shipped in shrink-wrapped plastic cases identical to those of commercial DVDs. Consumers also will be able to order films digitally, downloaded directly to their computers, for $15.

It seems a bit odd to me that the digital download option is merely an afterthought, at least how USA Today frames it (and it should be less than $15, too — maybe $10 — when you factor in all the effort and material on Warner Bros.’ part that does not have to go into a digital download). Of course, not everyone — at least not yet — will want to or will be able to download a film and either burn a disc themselves, watch a movie on a PC, or connect a PC to a TV for viewing. But the movies could be offered via cable on-demand services, or via Netflix’s new settop box. At the very least, to minimize waste, must the custom-made DVDs be shrink-wrapped? What purpose does that serve?

What do you think? Does an on-demand DVD business make sense?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)



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  • I’m pretty psyched, actually, because one of the movies available for sale is Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, which is a classically bad and cheesy 70s comic book film. This was a movie showed at my summer camp when I was growing up, and I’ve wanted the DVD for as long as there’s been DVDs. I’ve always understood, though, that the movie was total crap and would be unlikely to see the light of day.

    I can’t be the only person who secretly adores a total piece of crap, so I can’t be the only person celebrating.

  • We can only hope they’ll add three of those miserable “Security Device Enclosed” stickers and an RFID tag, too, so we can capture everything we love about the retail experience.

    In all honesty, though, I applaud this effort to make more obscure (or simply forgotten) films available to those precious few that might want them. $20 is a pretty darn reasonable price, too, considering that cult films will often fetch much more.

    This may be a desperate attempt to try and reclaim some revenue from Bittorrent, but if so I agree: why so much for the digital download? We can only hope they don’t wrap up the download in some foolish DRM scheme that will leave their customers stranded if the venture fails.

    I give Warner a lot of respect for recognizing the desire of an admittedly very small part of the population, but it’s these niggling details that have me concerned that they haven’t put enough thought into it.

  • I feel like I came off too snarky there. I’m actually very excited at this prospect and I hope other studios follow suit in opening up their back catalogs.

    This isn’t going to be a money maker for them. It demonstrates an appreciation for their fans, and that’s sincerely appreciated.

  • JoshB

    It doesn’t really matter if they consider downloading an afterthought as long as they have the bandwidth to support it.

  • @gordon: I want one too! Loved Doc Savage!

    It makes sense in that they will make money at zero to trivial cost to themselves. Most of the press-on-demand DVD places have a price-point of around $7.00 a DVD to make, label and ship and that goes down for any given title based on demand. So if they sell say 5000 Doc Savage DVDs then it might only cost $6.00 each.

    I’d be more inclined to bite if the price point was $5.00 for a digital download (or $8 for DRM-free) and $12.00 for a physical DVD. At $20.00 for a movie color not impressed.

  • Followup: I checked out some of the titles and these are straight-from-film copies. There is no digital clean-up (not even an Adobe AfterEffects filter) to remove spots and streaks on their film transfer. It is a lot like watching the films in a (non-digital) movie theater.

    If I felt like this was more than just a desperate grab for my wallet I’d be more inclined to pay $20. Digitally cleaned transfers, 5.1 stereo remixes, an extra or two (production photo slide-show or trailers).

    I am even less impressed than I was before. I don’t think I’ll take advantage of this service. Frankly, what they are offering isn’t worth the cash.

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