The Bad News About Cheaper Discs

Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes

The the long-term viability and utility of DVD and Blu-ray Discs is an issue always in the back of our minds here at Giant Interactive. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes hit the nail on the head in this recent item in Home Media Magazine, where he noted that disc-based entertainment will continue to be viable for the near term, but that it may also have to become less expensive in order to maintain a hold in the current and future consumer environment. [T]he fact that discs are still sold at big-box retailers such as Walmart underscored an ongoing market for sell-through. Bewkes reiterated comments from Time Warner’s May 2 fiscal call where he hinted that packaged-media sell-through could remain compelling to broadband-enabled consumers inundated by subscription video-on-demand and low-cost kiosk rentals, if priced correctly. ‘The bad news is [movies] may have to be cheaper, he said.’ Anybody in distribution and the home entertainment business will tell you that this environment is undergoing some monumental changes. Digital distribution has grown swiftly to become one of the primary methods of distribution and media consumption in the United States. Studios are rethinking release window strategies. The old formulas and strategies no longer work. What does that mean for those of us in the middle of the home entertainment pipeline, providing services to the studios, distributors and content holders in order to deliver to the consumer? In simple terms, it means that prices for services such as those we offer will experience continued downward pressure. As a boutique studio, providing a number of related interactive services including DVD and Blu-ray authoring, we’ve already felt the effect of this. But it also means, quite honestly, that content owners will also be looking to other areas of their product in order to cut costs and give themselves more latitude to compete. And that means a lower quality of product: Fewer bonus features, less interesting menu designs, less testing and less complicated functionality. It’ll mean more templating. That’s unfortunate. We’re confident that, like other authoring studios and interactive firms, our erstwhile competitors, we provide a service and one which can seem invisible…until it’s done poorly, with little care, with more attention paid to the cost to produce than the value. And then we all take the hit. I’ve seen critically acclaimed programming on discs with downright boring menus (I’m talkin’ to you Downton Abbey). Conversely, I’ve seen discs with pretty smart menus (Hello, Ghost Protocol) which clearly showed some thought and design effort went into them. Unfortunately, the latter is becoming rarer. My home cinema experience the poorer for it. Movies on disc may need to get less expensive, but I hope that there’ll still be a demand…and allowance for…delivery of a quality experience: Careful and knowledgeable encoding, the latest audio technology, smart design, engaging ‘bonus’ features, widely-compatible discs, to name a few. Just because something is less expensive, doesn’t necessarily make it a better value. It’s our aim to keep providing services in that sweet spot, that perfect mix of economy, skill and quality. We won’t be accepting every project, true, but I hope that we’ll continue to attract, collaborate with and serve distributors, studios and others who are looking for product which captivates, impresses and enthralls.