Paramount Pictures will be releasing a slate of 50 titles for the Philips CD-I interactive player in time for Christmas.

The studio made the announcement Wednesday night at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. The move could prove a tremendous boost for the Philips player, which has been slow to catch on with consumers.

Though every studio has looked at the technology, Par is the first to sign a multiyear agreement with Philips Interactive Media of America, a unit of Philips N.V.

“You will see Paramount on CD-I by this fall, in conjunction with the release of a homevideo. It’ll be a day and date,” said Emiel Petrone, PIMA’s senior VP for marketing and distribution. “We’re real excited about this.”

Adds Eric Doctorow, an executive veepee at Paramount Home Video: “We believe that by having a variety of formats in the marketplace, it not only raises the profile of homevideo in general, but can also help expand, through everyone’s marketing efforts, the homevideo pie.”

The two have also agreed to co-develop interactive CD-I titles, including some from Par films.

According to Petrone, joining Paramount will be Polygram Filmed Entertainment and affiliated banners, including Working Title, Propaganda Films, Interscope and A&M Films. Polygram is 80% owned by Philips.

The Dutch consumer electronics giant is also expected to be announcing a slate of musicvideos from a number of labels, not just Polygram, later in the week. No price has been set for these releases.

Good economics

One carrot for Paramount and others to follow is the compact disc’s low cost compared to manufacturing videotapes.

“A box costs $ 3 to $ 5 to produce, vs. 60 cents for pressing a CD,” said one studio executive in charge of homevideo. “That changes the economics.”

It could also give a kick to the $ 14 billion homevideo business, which is already far more robust than box office sales, which have stalled in recent years.

Philips will choose the 50 titles to be released: A combination of new films to be simultaneously released with the videotaped version and highlights from Paramount’s back catalogue. The titles will be priced, according to Petrone, for the sell-through market, at below $ 25.

In a unique twist, Philips will have total control over manufacturing, marketing and distribution. Paramount will get a straight licensing fee. According to sources, Philips paid a hefty sum for the deal. Neither company would comment.

Philips’ full-motion-video-capability to show VHS-quality images on full-screen TV will be available as an add-on cartridge to consumers this fall. The system uses the Motion Picture Experts Group standard for compression, permitting only 72 minutes of full-motion video to fit on a CD. As a result, most feature films will come on two 5-inch CDs. Other studios appear to be taking a wait-and-see attitude. The concerns, said exex, are over image quality, the cost of discs and compression ratio.

Next generation

While applauding Philips’ and Paramount’s effort to encourage consumer demand to purchase homevideo software, Warren Lieberfarb, president of Warner Home Video, intends to wait for the next generation of MPEG.

“It’s our opinion that there is demonstrably better picture quality available with MPEG II encoding and decoding,” he said. It’s “a notable difference to the creative community and consumers.”

Moreover, the higher compression of MPEG II, which may be available as early as late next year, would be able to squeeze up to two hours on a single CD.

For the moment, though, the question is whether adding full-motion-video capability to the CD-I player will translate into sales.

Philips estimates over 100,000 units worldwide have sold since its introduction in October 1991. But analysts have been less than impressed with the basic $ 600 price tag, plus another $ 250 for full-motion.

The company intends to market it as able to handle audio CDs, Kodak’s Photo CD, movies and its own CD-I games.

“Philips has spent a boatload of money making full-motion-video look good, so it may tack a few months or years on the life of the platform,” said Denise Caruso, editor of Digital Media. “But it won’t be successful because it’s too expensive.”

But Philips appears to be patient. “As with other product introductions, Philips takes the long-term view and is committed to the platform,” countered Scott Marden, head of Philips Software, which oversees PIMA.

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