October 7, 2021
On the eve of its 25th anniversary, the DVD is staging a comeback, at least among independent suppliers.
The five-inch digital disc was launched in March 1997 by Warner Bros. and MGM, but didn’t really impact the market until two years later, when Walmart began selling DVDs. Several years of explosive growth followed, giving the home entertainment business new respectability and a seat at the table in greenlighting movies.
But beyond the actual product, the DVD ushered in a digital revolution that would later bring us the Blu-ray Disc, digital distribution over cable and the Internet, and streaming.
With disc sales steadily declining, year after year, a number of independent suppliers are abandoning Blu-ray Disc and going back to DVD as the sole physical media distribution vehicle for their films. Their reasons range from cost to retail preference and consumer choice.
“About 75% of our films get released on DVD along with the digital release,” said Joe Amodei, president and CEO of Virgil Films & Entertainment. “The other 25% are digital only. I’d say only about 20% of our releases get a Blu-ray. I am primarily docs, and they just don’t sell like they used to.”
At Shout! Factory, the push toward DVD is largely due to what’s happening at retail, says John Rotella, the company’s SVP of Sales.
“Our primary reason is due to Walmart being committed to DVD first and backing away from Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD, which sets the table for most releases that have mass-placement potential,” Rotella said. “I can see us making more and more decisions to not release a Blu-ray on some Walmart-placed DVDs.
“Best Buy, on the other hand, is not interested in DVD and only takes Blu-ray and 4K, so on these Walmart DVD-placed titles if Best Buy decides to support a Blu-ray we will accommodate. If Best Buy passes on the Blu-ray then that, at times, is the death rattle.”
Target, Rotella notes, “leans toward the Blu-ray if the content is elevated by box office or cast or when the Blu-ray elevates a release by making it look more important. If they want to make the buying decision easier for the customer by offering a film at a lower price, the DVD will be the choice and possibly hurt the future of the Blu-ray. It all depends on content.”
Cost also is a factor, Rotella said. “Deciding not to release a Blu-ray can be a workload decision or if we have concerns with production costs,” he said. “Pricing is a barrier for Blu-ray on these types of films that simply meet consumer demand on DVD at a lower price. The DVD picture quality on modern Blu-ray players is good, so the quality difference isn’t enough to pay the extra dollars.”
Rotella said genres also factor in. “Black films, WWII films, Westerns, action films, and horror films have a stronger DVD base, so at times a Blu-ray Disc may not be necessary,” he says. “Big box office, big cast, pedigree, dramas, film noir, foreign, sci-fi, anime — these films do require a Blu-ray release, and the DVD is in jeopardy. We do make decisions to release a Blu-ray/DVD combo to allow us to have one SKU that caters to both sides of the aisle. The higher cost is an issue, but it does help strike a compromise.”
Not all indies are DVD-centric.
“We are actually releasing more Blu-ray Discs than DVDs now,” said Alan Fergurson, SVP of home entertainment and business development at Kino Lorber. “That is driven by the number of major studio releases that we have licensed and release via our Kino Lorber Studio Classics label. In most cases, the studio has already exploited the DVD version, and we focus on the Blu-ray Disc as a collectible edition featuring a new HD or 4K master, new artwork and new extras such as interviews, etc.”
Still, Fergurson said, “On our Kino Lorber arthouse and documentary releases, we are releasing more DVDs. Our decision process is that our foreign-language arthouse and documentaries don’t have the wide, collectible appeal on disc, and the buyers are primarily direct-mail-order consumers who are still primarily DVD, libraries and consumers with a passionate interest in the individual films. We also look at the cinematic elements of a film before deciding not to do a Blu-ray, like is it a lush nature doc or a well-known international director with an avid cineaste following?”