As I sit here sorting through a week and a half of e-mail, physical mail, DVDs, BluRays, screening invites, and news I’ve missed while buried in festival land, trying to get organized enough for a Morning Read for today and a new DVD column this afternoon, there’s one story that is absolutely worth discussing on its own before we get into anything else.
Yep, I’m talking about you, Warner Bros. Archive Collection.
It doesn’t shock me at all that George Feltenstein is one of the big movers behind the deal. I met George when I was at Dave’s Video almost 20 years ago, and he was a rabid buyer of laserdiscs. In particular, he was all about the vintage titles, and what was available and what wasn’t was a topic that we had many, many conversations about over the two years I worked there. There were films he was desperate to get his hands on that he was convinced would never find their way out of the vault, and it used to drive him crazy. So when I read his quotes in an article about this new system, it makes perfect sense. “This news is going to make a lot of people really happy” is a bit of an understatement.
Look, ever since Feltenstein began to climb his way to senior vice president of theatrical catalog marketing at Warner Home Video, his influence has been evident on the catalog release schedule over there, but no matter how many films they release commercially each year on DVD, they’re not going to put everything out. That’s because they have almost 7,000 titles in their archives. Those are Warner titles, MGM titles, and anything else they’ve picked up as various catalogs have changed hands over the years. There are less than 1500 of those titles that are available right now.
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So how does Warner Bros. ever expect to get those other 5000 titles into the hands of collectors who would want them? The reason many of them aren’t available is because the studio isn’t sure there’s enough demand to justify the expense of mastering and pressing and marketing each and every one of those movies. But what if they only had to make a DVD when someone ordered it? What if they could press a single copy of a film instead of having to press thousands and thousands? At that point, there seems to be no reason to hold any title back.
That seems to be the idea behind The Warner Archive Collection, an online service where you will be able to pick any title from a list, and that title will be pressed onto a disc, put into a professional Warner cover, and sent directly to you. And eventually, the claim is that they’ll put everything on that list… every single title they own. Normally, I would dismiss it as marketing speak when someone says something like, “I’ve always said it would be great if people could buy anything in our library, and now the time has come, because the technology finally exists,” except Feltenstein really has always said that.
First things on my list? “Doc Savage: Man Of Bronze,” “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing,” “Private Lives,” and Paul Simon’s “One Trick Pony.” I can order those for $80 as DVDs or for $60 if I’m content with digital downloads. It’s not as cheap as I’d like, but the service is brand-new. I’m sure as it evolves, the price point will shift. If other studios start similar services, as I’m sure they will if this experiment works, then I think this is the beginning of the end for the grey market on “out-of-print” titles, where collectors routinely pay exorbitant fees for single titles. Even at the height of VHS, maybe 4000 titles were available altogether, so there are things coming that we’ve never had access to, and that’s what makes this so exciting.
This may be a natural evolution of home video, but it’s taken enough time to get to this step that it feels positively revolutionary to those of us who can remember a time when there was no home video at all. The words “on demand” have never been more true.
Okay… off to finish this morning’s Morning Read…
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