DVD slays Goliath

Universal Home Vid announces format adoption

Universal Home Video continued the DVD drumbeating that is dominating the Video Software Dealers Assn. convention in Las Vegas Thursday by announcing it too will begin distributing film titles in the new format beginning in November.

Homevideo division chieftain Louis Feola confirmed that Universal — whose former corporate parent and current part-owner, Matsushita Electric Corp., has been intimately involved in the development of the new medium — will ship four titles in DVD this November, with six additional titles (including the studio’s all-time moneymaker, 1994’s “Jurassic Park”) arriving in stores during the winter months.

The defection of Universal from the skeptics’ club to that of the DVD-converted narrows to two the number of major video distributors that have yet to embrace the new home-entertainment ancillary: Walt Disney Home Video, arguably the industry’s 800-pound gorilla, and Viacom Inc. unit Paramount Home Video.

Given the division’s parentage, it was mildly surprising that Universal Home Video waited this long to leap on the DVD bandwagon, allowing Warner Bros., Sony Home Video and other smaller distributors such as Live Entertainment and Image Entertainment to get the jump on limited shelf space and consumer awareness.

But Feola insisted that the company has “diligently participated in the development of and fully support this revolutionary new format.” He added that DVD’s open technological issues, including the most contentious — its regional-issue security scheme — have “been resolved to our satisfaction.”

The first four DVD titles to roll out nationally from Universal will be “The Shadow” starring Alec Baldwin; “The Paper” starring Michael Keaton; the animated hit “The Land Before Time”; and the St. Bernard laffer “Beethoven.”Universal’s sign-on to DVD will almost certainly amplify pressure on Disney and Paramount to join the parade. Although both studios’ video divisions stated Thursday that they are continuing to monitor the medium’s development, it is altogether possible that Paramount, at least, may feel compelled to convert to DVD-ready status by year’s end.

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