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DVD may go day-and-date

Company's eyes closer release dates with U.S.

Now that the film biz is embracing day-and-date openings, DVD may start to embrace the trend, panelists at a Variety Cannes Conference Series panel session said Thursday morning.

Participants included Philippe Cardon, Warner Home Video’s managing director, Europe/Middle East/Africa; Malik Ducard, VP of worldwide business development & acquisitions at MGM Home Video; Stephen Einhorn, prexy-CEO, New Line Home Entertainment; and Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

Event was moderated by Variety home entertainment editor Scott Hettrick, who is also editor-in-chief of sister pubs Video Business and the recently launched DVD Exclusive.

Demonstrating the importance of DVD’s relationship to the theatrical release, the execs said they are working closer than ever with their studio counterparts to ensure maximum benefits. In fact, the emerging trend of worldwide day-and-date releases is one Cardon feels is imperative for his division as well.

“It is not only a strategy, but a need to have the closer release between the U.S. and international on theatrical, because then it will also be the starting point for the DVD,” he said. Scattered releases in different territories are confusing the consumer on DVD availability, he added.

“We are working a lot on this harmonization and simultaneous release of the DVD, which needs to start with simultaneous release of the theatrical.”

Much of the discussion centered around the emergence of Netflix, Flexplay and VOD as consumer alternatives to standard retail operations. With its 2 million subscribers, a 21,000-title library and projected revenue flow of $1 billion by 2006, DVD mail delivery outfit Netflix is offering customers smaller movies they can’t find anywhere else, Sarandos said.

“The ability we have to match the audience to the film is really the interesting and valuable component both for studios and consumers that Netflix has been able to address,” he said.

“Whale Rider” has done better for Netflix than many so-called blockbuster releases, Sarandos said, because the company’s technology can target subscribers most likely to enjoy the film.

Netflix will roll out in the U.K. in October.

Flexplay, the inexpensive DVD product that dissolves after 48 hours and has been endorsed by only thus far, drew a mixed response.

“It’s very unfriendly to the consumer,” said Sarandos, who cited ecological, psychological and business problems as just a few of its drawbacks.

But Einhorn expressed some enthusiasm: “I tend to like it because it’s one more way to satisfy consumer demand.” He also chimed in on video-on-demand, saying he thinks it is inevitable but won’t be nearly as popular as people seem to think.

The wide-ranging panel also hit on direct-to-video products, a trend MGM’s Ducard supported.

“A few years ago, direct-to-video meant failed theatrical, but now, with the acceptance of DVD, there is a new vibrant market for it.” He estimated this part of the pie at $4 billion out of the overall $20 billion-$25 billion business.

“It all gets down to shelf space, and if you can’t get on the shelf at the WalMarts and sell significant amounts the first week, you will be off that shelf,” Einhorn said. He sees the direct-to-video biz, with its higher marketing costs, as a significant risk.

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