April 20, 2004


Studios Rush to Cash In on DVD Boom (SHARON WAXMAN, 4/20/04, NY Times)

Not since the advent of the videocassette in the mid-1980's has the movie industry enjoyed such a windfall from a new product. And just as video caused a seismic shift two decades ago, the success of the DVD is altering priorities and the balance of power in the making of popular culture. And industry players, starting with the Writers Guild, are lining up to claim their share.

There's good cause. Between January and mid-March this year, Americans spent $1.78 billion at the box office. But in the same period they spent $4.8 billion — more than $3 billion more — to buy and rent DVD's and videocassettes.

Little wonder then that studio executives now calibrate the release dates of DVD's with the same care used for opening weekends, as seen by Miramax's strategic release of "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" a few days before the theatrical release of "Kill Bill: Vol. 2." (The DVD made $40 million its first day out.)

Studios now spend comparable amounts of money on DVD and theatrical marketing campaigns. Disney spent an estimated $50 million marketing the "Finding Nemo" DVD last year, said officials at Pixar, which made the film. It was money well spent. The DVD took in $431 million domestically, about $100 million more than the domestic box office. DVD has resuscitated canceled or nearly canceled television series like "The Family Guy" and "24," and has helped small art movies like "Donnie Darko" win rerelease in theaters. It is also beginning to affect the kinds of movies being made, as DVD revenues figure heavily in green-light decisions and are used as a perk to woo craft-conscious movie directors.

"There's not a sector of the entertainment industry to which DVD is not a significant, if not the dominant, contributor of revenue," said Scott Hettrick, editor in chief of DVD Exclusive, a trade paper, pointing to the movie and television libraries being released on DVD. Even in the ailing music industry, he noted, music DVD's are an area of growth.

Master and Commander is out today and it's exquisite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 20, 2004 1:56 PM

Forget it and rent "Finding Nemo": not only your kids, but you too will enjoy it.

Posted by: Paul Cella at April 20, 2004 4:06 PM

"Master and Commander" is next on my Netflix list.

Posted by: jd watson at April 20, 2004 7:11 PM

I realize I'm in a very small minority here, but I absolutely hated Finding Nemo. It just seemed to reek of political correctness, to the point where it felt far more like a standard-issue modern Disney cartoon than Pixar's previous movies like Toy Story and Monsters Inc.

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at April 20, 2004 8:38 PM


I was subimpressed too. On the other hand, I thought the recent Sinbad movie from Dreamworks was exceptionally good and it disappeared without leaving a trace.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2004 9:03 PM

If Pixar starts veering towards PC stories, they'll run into the same problems in the future Disney had, since the PC bug bit their 2-D animated features starting with Pocahontas a decade ago.

Of course, to this day Eisner and his people don't believe that's the problem -- they think the public wants to watch computer generated animation over traditional style, which is why they've closed their 75-year-old animation department, under the belief that the public will lap up any crappy, politically correct story, so long as it comes from a computer (it's also why I hope Eisner survives at the studio at least until next year, when Disney's first CGI film comes out and tanks he can get all the blame).

Posted by: John at April 20, 2004 10:09 PM


That Eisner would think that is fascinating--because I think digitally animated films have been out long enough (almost a decade--Toy Story debuted around Christmas of '95 as I recall) to have some of the bloom taken off them.

As I wrote on my Weblog last month after watching Nemo, "you know digital animation has come of age, when you realize a film looks incredible, but you still hate it, and wish it were cut up into millions of digital guitar picks".

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at April 20, 2004 11:31 PM