‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ Due on Premium Digital May 30, Disc June 28

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore will arrive for premium digital ownership and rental on May 30, the same day it is available to stream on HBO Max, and will be released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD June 28.

In the film, professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) knows the powerful dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) is moving to seize control of the wizarding world. Unable to stop him alone, he entrusts Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to lead an intrepid team of wizards, witches and one brave Muggle baker on a dangerous mission, where they encounter old and new beasts and clash with Grindelwald’s growing legion of followers.

The film is directed by David Yates from a screenplay by J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves, based upon a screenplay by Rowling. The film’s ensemble cast also includes Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, William Nadylam, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Victoria Yeates, Poppy Corby-Tuech, Fiona Glascott, Katherine Waterston, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Richard Coyle, Oliver Masucci, Valerie Pachner, Aleksandr Kuznetsov and Mads Mikkelsen.

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Additionally, the documentary “Fantastic Beasts: A Natural History,” produced by BBC Studios Natural History Unit and Warner Bros., will be available on EST May 30 at $9.99. The collaboration with the Natural History Museum in London sees Stephen Fry embark on a global journey to discover the stories behind some of the world’s most fantastic beasts. Traveling from Utah, to Florida and to Loch Ness, Fry examines the connections between the extraordinary animals of planet Earth and the fantastic beasts of mythology and the Wizarding World. The documentary features an exclusive interview with J. K. Rowling.

Extras on premium digital, 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray include “The Dumbledore Family Tree,” ” Dumbledore Through the Ages,” “Magical or Muggle,” “The Magic of Hogwarts,” “Even More Fantastic Beasts,” “Newt in the Wild,” “The German Ministry of Magic,” “A Dumbledore Duel,” “The Candidates’ Dinner,” “Erkstag Jailbreak,” “Battle in Bhutan,” “The Secrets of Cursed Child” and deleted scenes.

The DVD includes “The Magic of Hogwarts.”

Tom Cruise Action Thriller ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Headed to 4K July 5

The 2014 Tom Cruise action thriller Edge of Tomorrow will be released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack and digital July 5 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Co-starring Emily Blunt and directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), the film takes place as an alien race, undefeatable by any existing military unit, has launched a relentless attack on Earth, and Major William Cage (Cruise) finds himself dropped into a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage is thrown into a time loop, forced to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again and again. Training alongside Rita Vrataski (Blunt), his skills slowly evolve, and each battle moves them a step closer to defeating the enemy.  ​

The film also stars Bill Paxton (Aliens, HBO’s “Big Love”), Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1), Noah Taylor (Lawless), Kick Gurry (Australian TV’s “Tangle”), Dragomir Mrsic (Snabba Cash II), Charlotte Riley (World Without End), Jonas Armstrong (BBC TV’s “Robin Hood”), Franz Drameh (Attack the Block), Masayoshi Haneda (Emperor) and Tony Way (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

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Special features include “Operation Downfall — Adrenaline Cut,” “Storming the Beach,” “Weapons of the Future,” “Creatures Not of This World,” “On the Edge With Doug Liman” and deleted scenes.

Warner Bros., Fathom Events Bringing ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Back to the Big Screen in June

In honor of Judy Garland’s 100th birthday this June, Fathom Events and Warner Bros. are bringing her memorable performance in The Wizard of Oz back to theaters for a two-day engagement.

The film will play in more than 800 theatres nationwide on Fathom’s Digital Broadcast Network on June 5 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time and on June 6 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time. In addition to the full feature film, moviegoers will be able to enjoy a rarely seen extended musical number. In the scene, Ray Bolger (Scarecrow) performs a dance routine that was cut from the original movie.

Tickets for “The Wizard of Oz: Judy Garland 100 Years Over the Rainbow” are available online at www.fathomevents.com or at participating theater box offices. For a complete list of theater locations and prices, visit the Fathom Events website (theaters and participants are subject to change).

Adapted from L. Frank Baum’s children’s tale about a Kansas girl’s journey over the rainbow, The Wizard of Oz opened at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Aug. 15, 1939. The film was directed by Victor Fleming (who that same year directed ‘Gone With the Wind’), produced by Mervyn LeRoy, and scored by Herbert Stothart, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg.

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The movie’s Dorothy character was portrayed by 16-year-old Garland, who quickly earned her reputation as “the world’s greatest entertainer.” Other notable cast members included Bert Lahr as the Cowardly lion, Jack Haley as the Tin Man. Frank Morgan was seen in six different roles, including that of the mighty “Wizard of Oz” himself.

The movie received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (Outstanding Production), and captured two Oscars — Best Song (“Over the Rainbow”) and Best Original Score — plus a special award for Outstanding Juvenile Performance by Judy Garland. The film was an overwhelmingly popular and critical success upon its initial release and proved its ability to continually captivate audiences when MGM Studios reissued the film in 1949 and 1955.

Classic ‘Giant’ Headed to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Digital June 21

The 1956 classic Giant will be released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and digital June 21 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean (in his final role), the film is a sweeping saga of jealousy, racism and the clash of cultures set in the vast Texas oilfields. Wealthy rancher Bick Benedict (Hudson) and dirt-poor cowboy Jett Rink (Dean) both woo Leslie Lynnton (Taylor) a beautiful young woman from Maryland who is new to Texas. She marries Benedict, but she is shocked by the racial bigotry of the White Texans against the local people of Mexican descent. Rink discovers oil on a small plot of land, and while he uses his vast, new wealth to buy all the land surrounding the Benedict ranch, the Benedict’s disagreement over prejudice fuels conflict that runs across generations.

George Stevens Sr. won his second Oscar for directing the film. Based on Edna Ferber’s controversial novel, the movie was a massive box office hit and garnered 10 Academy Award nominations. 

In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” 

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The new 4K restoration was completed sourcing both the original camera negatives and protection RGB separation master positives for the best possible image, and color corrected in high dynamic range for the latest picture display technology, according to the studio. The audio was sourced primarily from a 1995 protection copy of the Original Magnetic Mono soundtrack. The picture and audio restoration was completed by Warner Bros. Post Production Creative Services: Motion Picture Imaging and Post Production Sound.

Special features on 4K disc include commentary by George Stevens Jr., screenwriter Ivan Moffat and critic Stephen Farber.

‘Batman’ Unseats ‘Spider-Man’ Atop Weekly Vudu Chart

Warner Bros.’ The Batman unseated Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: No Way Home to lead the chart of the 10 most-popular titles on Fandango’s transactional digital service Vudu the week ended April 24.

The DC Comics-based superhero actioner debuted for premium digital rental and purchase April 18. It stars Robert Pattinson (TenetThe Lighthouse) as the caped crusader, who after more than a year of stalking the streets and striking fear into the hearts of criminals, dives deep into the shadows of Gotham City. 

Rising to No. 2 from No. 6 on the chart was the canine buddy comedy Dog. Newly available for digital purchase, the MGM film follows an Army ranger (Channing Tatum, who also co-directs) who races down the Pacific Coast with an Army dog named Lulu to make it to a fellow soldier’s funeral on time. Along the way, they drive each other crazy.

After five weeks in the top spot, Spider-Man: No Way Home fell to No. 3 on the chart. The Marvel Studios film is available for digital purchase and rental. As the film begins, Spider-Man’s identity is revealed, bringing his superhero responsibilities into conflict with his normal life and putting those he cares about at risk, including M.J. (Zendaya). When he enlists Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) help to restore his secret, the spell tears a hole in the world, releasing Spider-Man villains from other universes.

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Illumination’s Sing 2 remained at No. 4 on the chart. The animated sequel, distributed by Universal Pictures, is available for digital purchase and rental. It follows the animal singers as they plan a new show and try to persuade the world’s most reclusive rock star, Clay Callaway (voice of Bono), to join them.

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Falling from No. 2 to No. 5 on the chart was Lionsgate’s Roland Emmerich disaster film Moonfall, starring Halle Berry. Available for digital purchase beginning April 1, the film follows a space crew attempting to save the Earth when a mysterious force knocks the moon out of its orbit.

Vudu’s top 10 titles for the week ended April 24, in terms of revenue, were:

  1. The Batman
  2. Dog
  3. Spider-Man: No Way Home
  4. Sing 2
  5. Moonfall
  6. Blacklight
  7. The Contractor
  8. Jackass Forever
  9. Better Call Saul: Season 6
  10. Infinite

Starting a Revolution: A Candid Conversation With Warren Lieberfarb, the ‘Father of DVD’

The digital revolution in home entertainment may never have happened had it not been for Warren Lieberfarb, whose vision of movies on disc ultimately led to the creation of the DVD. As president of Warner Home Video, he forged an alliance of film studios, consumer electronics companies and computer manufacturers to bring his vision to fruition. This, in turn, set the stage for a digital revolution in which consumers are easily able to watch or buy the latest movies and shows over the internet or through their cable provider — or subscribe to Netflix or any of the other subscription streaming services that also owe their existence to this iconic visionary. Now 78, the “father of DVD” — and recipient of the prestigious Wharton Infosys Business Transformation Award — sat down at his Brentwood, Calif., office for a lengthy conversation with Media Play News about the development and launch of DVD.

See also: 25 Years of Digital Entertainment – The Disc That Changed the World

MPN: Warren, what was your initial vision for DVD?

Lieberfarb: The goal was to have a new form of packaged media based on digital and optical technologies that had both material and manufacturing cost advantages relative to videocassettes. A corollary to cost superiority would be the ability to offer discs at attractive consumer price points and that would equate to transactional profitability greater than that of the royalties expected to be derived from pay-per-view and inherently greater profit potential than videocassettes. Pay-per-view was seen as the competing threat to the VHS rental ecosystem. Moreover, the vision I had was to have a product that could be manufactured in seconds rather than in

Warren Lieberfarb, March 2022

the real time of the movie, as high-speed tape duplication had failed to gain traction. This would optimize the efficiency of the supply chain. Finally, a five-inch video-disc was seen as having the size and appearance — and, thus the popularity and familiarity — of the audio compact disc. Lastly, I believed that we had to offer superior picture quality to videocassettes, broadcast and cable TV (comparable to the laserdisc in video resolution) — and superior sound to stereo, i.e. 5.1 channel sound comparable to that required by the Advanced TV Standard. It was also apparent that if this could be perfected, it would enable playback not only on hardware connected to TVs, but also on compliant PCs — and even offer the possibility to replace the CD-ROM due to this new disc’s capacious data capacity that was inherently a necessity to meet the audio and video feature set. Therefore, interoperability between the TV and PC was another aspect of the initial vision.

MPN: When did you first envision movies on disc?

Lieberfarb: It was in the late 1960s, when I was exposed to Philips’ efforts to develop a laserdisc, which preceded the compact disc.

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MPN: Your efforts intensified when we saw the VHS market, which had been booming throughout the 1980s, began to slow down a little bit.

Lieberfarb: The signals of that which was impacting the VHS rental market came from the fact that rental incidence was declining among DirecTV subscribers. DirecTV had a significant increase in the number of channels that it offered consumers versus that which cable offered, including the compelling NFL Sunday Ticket. And in those households that became DirecTV or Dish subscribers, the incidence of renting videocassettes precipitously declined. It was my view that cable, to compete with digital satellite, would have to increase its channel capacity. It would accomplish this by upgrading its plant to a hybrid fiber-optic and coaxial cable architecture. The number of channels on cable, therefore, would increase. More channels, more choice, equated to households being less apt to rent from the local video store.

The writing was on the wall that home video’s long-term future was at risk due to the next generation of digital cable and digital satellite. The solution, in my mind, if the goal was to keep packaged media viable, was to offer superior quality, both audio and video, on a format that people were familiar with and that they associated with quality — namely, the compact disc. I had to find a way to deliver higher-quality video, at lower product costs than VHS, so that the notion of buying and owning would provide convenience, especially to families with children, enabling every household member to program what they want, when they want, where they want … at a price point ultimately in the neighborhood of $10 to $12.

MPN: When did you first present this concept, this vision, to the Warner brass, to your superiors at Warner Bros.?

Lieberfarb: In 1986 or thereabouts, when Philips approached me to support the CD Video, which was 20 minutes of audio and five minutes of video clips on a five-inch CD. Philips had the notion that this would enable a second format for the music industry akin to the environment when they had both LPs/cassettes and 45s. … This never succeeded. … But the CD Video player would also be able to play a laserdisc. And I looked into the economics of laserdisc manufacturing, and ultimately discovered that in high volumes, the laserdisc had the potential to be half the product cost of a VHS tape. So in ’86, I became intrigued by this notion of whether we could use this effort to launch CD Video as, in fact, a Trojan Horse to get laserdisc off the ground.

Well, the chicken and eggs to make that happen, the Catch-22 to make that happen, never came together. And before you knew it, the question of how do you put video on a CD-like substrate became my mission. We’re now up to about 1988. I entered into an agreement with Philips to together determine whether there had been advances in MPEG compression that would enable 120 minutes of at least VHS quality to be encoded on a CD. We were never able to achieve that with MPEG-1 video. It was only when MPEG-2 video compression had been standardized that we were able to not only get VHS quality, but to in essence approximate laserdisc quality as well as 5.1-channel audio. At this point in time I was willing to compromise laserdisc quality for the cost superiority of a CD vis-à-vis VHS.

MPN: After the 1989 acquisition of Time Inc. by Warner Communications, you suddenly had a new CE partner, Toshiba, that had been brought in through the newly formed Time Warner Entertainment venture. Philips at first was going to work with you to co-develop the DVD, but then wound up teaming with Sony to develop an alternative format called MMCD.

Lieberfarb: MMCD stood for Multimedia Compact Disc. Its maximum data capacity was 3GB, and its principal objective was to preserve the patent position that Sony and Philips had in the compact disc by extending it to video. They designed it to use the physical structure of the compact disc and the existing optical pickup of the compact disc. The data capacity was far below that which Toshiba and Warner were developing because we were designing a product to have the video resolution comparable to the FCC’s Advanced Television Standard, 5.1 digital sound, interoperability with a personal computer, and data capacity for the bonus material that people would see as added value, in addition to the movie itself.

MPN: So now we have two opposing camps. How did we get to a unified format? How did we avoid another VHS versus Betamax battle, where both formats came to market and slugged it out?

Lieberfarb: Sony and Philips … tried to convey the notion that our product was theoretical, could never actually be made in quantity, and was, in essence, vaporware. … So we had to find a way to stop these hostile actions of Sony and Philips, and how did we do it? In 1992, the head of the antitrust division of the Justice Department had issued a set of new guidelines for the enforcement of antitrust law in high-technology industries. Well, there was a provision in these policy guidelines that stipulated the misuse and abuse of a dominant patent portfolio to stifle innovation and limit competition in an emerging technology would be a violation of the Clayton Act and/or the Sherman Act. What is the misuse and abuse of a dominant patent portfolio to stifle innovation and limit competition? Fictitious product announcements, vaporware, premature product announcements were all seen, from an antitrust standpoint, as in violation of the Sherman Act or Clayton Act. Well, I had all of this evidence of Philips and Sony’s behavior. We went to the Justice Department and its antitrust division examined the evidence we had accumulated. They already had Sony and Philips under investigation for anti-competitive practices on the licensing of CD patents to CD manufacturers. They expanded their investigation to include the anti-competitive behavior they were engaged in against what we at the time had code-named TAZ, as in the Tasmanian Devil, and the threat of an antitrust action caused Sony and Philips to capitulate and agree to support DVD.

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MPN: That led to other CE companies lining up behind DVD as well, and the computer industry was not far behind. Where did that leave Hollywood?

Lieberfarb: Each studio had a different story that I had to engage them on in order to win support.

Let’s take Paramount. At the time, Viacom owned Blockbuster as well as Paramount. We’re in the period 1997, 1998, and Blockbuster had finally come to realize that its inventory model — namely, of buying videos at $65 wholesale and renting them, and having limited copy depth of the new hit movies — resulted in inadequate inventory to meet demand for new releases. Thus, consumers became increasingly frustrated and dissatisfied by the video rental experience. People had gone past the stage of being satisfied with renting older movies; they wanted to see the current releases. And this phenomenon evolved the longer they owned their VCRs. We had concluded a test with the management of Blockbuster in which we provided, at a wholesale price of $2 per unit, high levels of inventory of Eraser, an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, and Tin Cup, a Kevin Costner movie with Rene Russo about golf, so as to validate that a higher level of inventory, minimal wholesale prices, and a revenue-sharing arrangement would result in higher rental transactions and would be margin-accretive to both Blockbuster and the studios. In other words, in a quid pro quo for the lower wholesale price, Blockbuster would agree to a revenue-sharing arrangement with us. This was initiated when the president of Blockbuster was the ex-Walmart executive Bill Fields, and he and his management team wanted to experiment with a copy-depth/revenue-sharing arrangement.

Warren Lieberfarb (center) at the 1997 VSDA convention with Toshiba executive Koji Hase (left) and the late Russ Solomon, founder of the Tower Records and Video chain. Tower was an early retail supporter of DVD. (Media Play News archive photo)

Then [Viacom chairman] Sumner Redstone fired Bill Fields for failing to meet his first-quarter forecast — which was based on the prior year’s first quarter, which had the Titanic phenomenon — and was now taking charge of Blockbuster himself until he finds John Antioco. Blockbuster built a new warehouse in Texas. Blockbuster was entering into revenue-sharing deals with every studio based on data that was coming from the Warner experiment. The then-chairman of Paramount became an adversary of DVD. He thought it would cannibalize the VHS business and he didn’t believe the financial models that DVD would become a high-volume, mass product that would exceed the profitability of VHS rental. Sumner Redstone created an investor day in Texas where he was going to show the new warehouse and how they were repackaging the product from the studios so that they were suitable for being inventory in this new revenue-sharing model. There was some kind of new packaging that he developed and he wanted a common distribution center for the whole country. And he had an entourage of Wall Street analysts on their way to Texas. But the one studio he didn’t have to revenue-share its product was Warner Bros. And he had promised Wall Street that he’d have 100% studio support for this new model. So Sumner calls me from his plane and claims that I had driven his stock price down by telling certain analysts on Wall Street that we were not going to support his revenue-sharing initiative. I said I would never meddle with providing confidential information to analysts, and that I viewed all of that as proprietary between us. “But I will tell you, Sumner,” I said, “until Paramount supports DVD with day-and-date releases at sellthrough prices, we won’t be revenue-sharing our product in Blockbuster stores.” A day later, the chairman of Paramount called me and said we had Paramount’s commitment for supporting DVD.

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Which brings me to Fox. [Studio chief] Bill Mechanic believed that DVD was dead on arrival because it did not provide record capability. The CD didn’t provide record capability, and the use of the VCR had evolved in most countries to being essentially used for playback of pre-recorded material instead of time-shifting. So I tried to make the claim to Mechanic that record capability was irrelevant. If we had quality that was superior to VHS, and we had a price that was fair, the offtake of DVD and related content sales would be an accretive business and it would be addressing the threats we’ve faced from the expansion of channels and video-on-demand on cable.

Home entertainment executive Ben Feingold, movie producer and record executive Saul Zaentz and music legend Quincy Jones salute Warren Lieberfarb (third from left) at the 2003 Home Entertainment Summit. Zaentz won three Best Picture Oscars, for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus and The English Patient (Media Play News archive photo)

Well, Fox was launching The Fox Family Channel with Haim Saban as its partner. Haim had a global success with “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” But The Fox Family Channel found itself, in the Time Warner Cable system, at a very high position on the dial. The Fox Family Channel wanted to have a much lower dial position. And I conveyed to the leadership of The Fox Family Channel that there might be a way to get a lower dial position. I was hopeful that News Corp. and Fox Family Channel senior management would convince Bill Mechanic and Peter Chernin that the DVD was an accretive new business that they should support with day-and date-availability at sellthrough prices. I’m not privy to what transpired, but in the end they got a lower dial position, and we got DVD.

MPN: There were other battles as well, most notably Divx, the pay-per-play variant championed by the CEO of Circuit City, one of the big consumer electronics retail chains. That one generated a lot of press at the time. But Divx didn’t last long, with CE manufacturers reluctant to support the format because they didn’t want to confuse the consumer. And then, of course, there was digital VHS, the cassette’s last stand, which likewise went nowhere. When did you first know DVD was going to be a massive success?

Lieberfarb: When Divx failed and we had unanimous support from the studios, unanimous support for a de facto standard, unanimous support from the consumer electronics industry, unanimous support from the PC industry, an agreement on obligatory content protection technology incorporated in both the content and on the hardware, and the support of Best Buy, Target, Walmart and even video rentailers, as well as Columbia House. The tracking studies we were doing on awareness and satisfaction, week in and week out, kept showing that people loved the product. So we not only gave consumers something they really wanted, but we also created a completely new ecosystem of authoring, encoding and replication that enabled a dramatic transformation in the distribution model for home video on a global basis.

Animated Feature ‘King Tweety’ Due on Digital and DVD June 14

The animated family feature King Tweety is set for release on digital and DVD June 14 by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. 

Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, King Tweety finds Tweety, Sylvester and Granny jet-setting to the Canary Islands where Tweety learns he’s a royal descendant and the next in line to the throne. When the queen of the island paradise disappears, Tweety unexpectedly becomes next in line for the crown. His entourage includes motorbike daredevil Granny and sly Sylvester, whose allegiance is tested when he uncovers a sinister plot to eliminate Tweety for good.

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The release includes three bonus classic “Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries” cartoons: “Something Fishy Around Here,” “The Maltese Canary” and “The Cat Who Knew Too Much.”

King Tweety features the voice talents of Eric Bauza as Sylvester/Tweety/Larry Bird/the Handsome Stewart; Flula Borg as Harold/Singing Fish/Enthusiastic Crowdgoer; Carlease Burke as Queen Honk/Candice the Crane; Jon Daly as Diego; Regi Davis as Rodrigo the Dog/Charlie Bird Parker/an Owl; Dana DeLorenzo as Izza; Riki Lindhome as Beep Beep; Candi Milo as Granny/Green Bean/Lady Bird Johnson; Maya Lynne Robinson as Officer Gnutz/Dancer; Niccole Thurman as Aoogah/Melaney Blank and Mark Whitten as Officer Siedes/John Foray.


Warner’s ‘The Batman’ Eyes Third-Straight Weekend Box Office Win

Warner Bros. Pictures/DC’s The Batman is expected to remain atop the weekend box office — a position the Robert Pattinson/Zoë Kravitz-starring reboot has held since its March 4 debut. The movie has topped $505 million at the global box office, including $258.2 million in North America.

Industry reports suggest The Batman could see upwards of $48 million across North American screens, topping $300 million in total revenue through March 20.

Meanwhile, newcomer Crunchyroll’s Jujutsu Kaisen 0: The Movie is projected to debut north of $10 million, edging out previous Sony Pictures’ chart topper Uncharted with another $8 million, and $125.3 million overall.

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Other theatrical returnees include United Artists Releasing’s Dog, starring Channing Tatum, with $4.7 million in revenue ($54.7 million overall), and Sony’s enduring Marvel hit, Spider-Man: No Way Home, with another $3.8 million in ticket sales. The movie is approaching $800 million in revenue in North America; $1.9 billion globally.

The movie is currently available on premium VOD ($19.99) across digital channels, and releases April 12 on disc.

Jim Wuthrich: Lifting and Shifting From the Disc Into the Digital Stream

“Put it on a Disc.” That was the name of our relay team that back in August 1995 ran the 200 miles from Mount Hood to the Oregon coast over a 24-hour period.

I didn’t have a clue how that phrase would come to dominate my career.

The startup company I was working for at the time in Portland, Creative Media, was my introduction to DVD as it pivoted from the early computer multimedia era of CD-ROM.  One of our first DVD products was the Blockbuster Guide to Movies and Video, recently ported from CD-ROM to the higher capacity DVD.

That product led me to Southern California in 1998 to join the Warner Bros. team that was launching movies on DVD.  When I walked through those doors on the famed Warner Bros. lot, I would never have imagined I would still be here 24 years later, but it’s a testament to a company and industry that is ever-changing.

Those early days were frenetic — much as they were at the startup I left.  Warren Lieberfarb [at the time, Warner Home Video president and the “father of DVD”] was a missionary, resolute in the belief that people would want to own and collect movies, and he was determined to make the format a success.

It wasn’t a forgone conclusion.  There were naysayers everywhere: “Movies are one viewing and done, why would anyone want to own?”; “DVD isn’t the future; digital tape will win the format war”; “DVD players are too expensive, no one will buy.”

But Warren saw the future and tirelessly drove his staff, industry and detractors until DVD became one of the fastest-growing consumer electronics formats in history.  It was a fun, heady time.  The breakout was the first The Matrix movie.  I remember speaking with my mother, who said she bought The Matrix DVD, which was interesting because it wasn’t her type of movie, but more to the point, she didn’t own a DVD player!  When asked why she bought it, she said she heard so much about it, she just had to buy it.

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On a large title we’d ship 20+ million discs, host lavish launch parties and debate spending millions on advertising “chase” campaigns.  There were many innovations including special features (behind the scenes/making of/documentaries), connected discs which enabled content updates and “virtual” theater events with the director, and E Copy, a digital copy of the film that could be stored on a computer.

There were format wars (Divx/Blu-ray/HD DVD) that spilled over to the front page of The Wall Street Journal, business model innovations (rental revenue sharing, subscription by mail), discovery of latent consumer interest in TV series (DVD was the original binge format), and hijacked trailer trucks full of DVDs (because of their value).

As successful as DVD was, it would only be a bridge to the next chapter in distribution: digital, delivered over the internet.  Eliminating the physical disc was the ultimate efficiency tool, promising near instantaneous global distribution, where and when needed.

Physical media is inherently inefficient in that predicting consumer demand down to the individual store is fraught with either not enough or too much product, and the resultant lost sales or “returns” (excess inventory) could have a major impact on profitability.  Internet-delivered movies and TV shows also freed up endless “shelf space” so even the most obscure movie or TV series could find a listing in a digital retailer’s database.

But there were challenges, too, including slow internet speeds, data caps, digital rights management, getting it to the TV, rights and supply chain issues.

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The early days of digital were a lift and shift of the physical world in that the predominant business model was transactional; either a rental (video-on-demand, or VOD) or “ownership” (electronic sellthrough, or EST).  The MVPDs and satellite companies were offering VOD or PPV and eventually expanded into EST, but it was the internet-based businesses that had the biggest impact.  There were many retail pioneers, including Movielink, the studios’ ill-fated joint venture.  iTunes extended their innovation of unbundling the music album to TV, allowing consumers to buy individual episodes of TV shows versus the whole series; they also were one of the first to offer special features from a digital menu familiar to DVD users and were the first to build a global footprint.  Other early pioneers that are still offering transactional include Vudu, Xbox, Amazon and Google.

Another concept borrowed from the world of physical media was buy-and-play anywhere. Back then, digital platforms were silos where the content was captive to the platform it was purchased on, unlike DVD, which could be bought at any retailer and played on any DVD player.

Ultraviolet (UV) was an attempt to add more utility to a digital purchase, so that a movie bought through retailer “A” could be played back at retailer “B” — which was particularly helpful  in the early days, with limited ways to playback on TVs.  Eventually, the entitlement concept pioneered by Ultraviolet was replaced by Movies Anywhere, with a more robust retailer and studio network.

Today, digital video is everywhere, but the dominant business model has shifted from transactional to subscription.  An undeniable consumer bargain, the all-you-can view subscription buffet continues to enjoy tremendous growth as it spurs the industry to create ever-more storytelling.

It’s interesting to note that the other formats have not gone away. The transactional market generated over $8 billion in consumer sales through DVD/Blu-ray and transactional digital last year — the majority purchased by consumers who also have subscription services.  For fans of movies and series, there has never been a better time.

Having seen it all, I can retire the “Put it on a Disc” shirt.  I have a new one to wear now that says “HBO Max.”

Jim Wuthrich is president of content distribution for WarnerMedia and chair of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

‘Eraser: Reborn’ Due on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD June 7

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will  release of Eraser: Reborn on digital, Blu-ray and DVD June 7.

It’s the next chapter to Eraser (1996), the Chuck Russell-directed action thriller that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as a U.S. Marshall assigned to “erase” the identity of a witness he is assigned to protect.

Eraser: Reborn, which will be also available for streaming on HBO Max in fall 2022, follows U.S. Marshal Mason Pollard, who specializes in “erasing” people — faking the deaths of high-risk witnesses. With the technological advances of the past 25 years, the game has upgraded, and it’s just another day at the office when he’s assigned to Rina Kimura, the wife of a crime boss who’s decided to turn state’s evidence. As the two flee to Cape Town, South Africa, with a team of merciless assassins on their trail, Pollard discovers he’s been set up.

The film stars Dominic Sherwood (Shadowhunters) as Mason Pollard, Jacky Lai (V-Wars) as Rina Kimura, McKinley Belcher III (Marriage Story) as Paul Whitlock, a mentor to Pollard, and Eddie Ramos (Animal Kingdom) as Sugar Jax, a local gangster.

Extras include a making-of featurette.