Int’l DVDs force release speedup

Discs often bow prior to o'seas theatrical preems

With DVD becoming more popular overseas, especially in Europe and Japan, the window for theatrical releases of U.S. pics in international territories could narrow to a point where DVDs are released day and date with their theatrical counterpart, said Benjamin Feingold, prexy of Columbia TriStar Home Video during DVD99, a two-day technology confab in Los Angeles.

Currently, DVD titles often bow in the U.S. — day and date with rental copies of the same pic — prior to the pics’ theatrical release overseas. Thus, foreign audiences are able to purchase the DVDs online or through retailers and have them shipped to their homes before the pics play in their local theaters.

Foreign DVD players read an encryption that bars them from playing discs produced outside their territories, but as has been proven, the protection technology can easily be disabled.

As a result, Feingold said the major studios are being forced to “shorten the theatrical window.”

“We’re already seeing the effect of DVD,” Feingold said. “In the future, Hollywood will have to preplan releases more than they do today.”

Feingold said the use of digital delivery systems, such as digital projection, may enable the studios to do so. “If the technology is there, we may be able to do that,” he said.

They may have to. In Europe, hardware sales are expected to reach 1.5 million by the end of the year, up from the current 600,000, with consumers in France and Germany making up the largest number of buyers. The number of available titles is expected to reach 900 now that Universal and Fox are shipping discs in the territory. About 24 million discs are expected to sell.

In Japan, 1 million players have shipped already this year, doubling the number shipped in all of 1998. Roughly 3,000 titles are expected to be available by 2000, with nearly 10 million discs expected to sell.

Comparably, in the U.S., sales of DVD players are expected to reach 4 million before the end of the year, while 56 million software titles will be shipped to retailers, growing four times that of CDs. There are 5,000 titles available to choose from.

The technology has yet to penetrate the Chinese market, where video compact discs are still the format favorite because of their copying ease.

Feingold also predicted that DVDs will become more adaptable to devices, being able to play on upcoming disc-based videogame consoles from PlayStation, Sega and Nintendo.

Educational and music-oriented DVDs will also begin to flood the market.

DVD99 is hosted by the Intl. Recording Media Assn.

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