Piracy grabs stage

Video prez hits theft, plays down slower sales

LAS VEGAS — Amid stories of slowing growth in the DVD industry, stock re-evaluations, shareholder lawsuits and a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation at DreamWorks over “Shrek 2” DVDs, Video Software Dealers Assn. prexy Bo Andersen found himself having to defend a $25 billion industry with a huge profit margin.

Speaking Tuesday in the opening business session of the annual industry convention, Andersen said recent reports about the state of the industry were not providing proper perspective, and that most 8-year-old industries would be happy with growth in the single digits.

“I think all of us should remember the fact that homevideo is more than twice as large as it was when many of us thought it ‘maturing’ in the early ’90s. Where other industries scratch and claw for any signs of growth, homevideo continues to grow. There is no reason to belittle our growth when it slides temporarily into the low single digits.”

Instead, Andersen focused his comments on the ongoing threat of piracy.

Lewis lashes out

Even celebrity keynote speaker Jerry Lewis, who followed Andersen, was hip enough to recent industry news to make a brief and vague reference about DreamWorks’ woes of late.

But Lewis took an unexpected detour, ranting about piracy late in the Q&A portion of his presentation when an overly jubilant attendee ran to the stage, jumped up and staged a pratfall just inches from the comedian. Lewis had asked the audience member to the stage in order to examine an advance galley the attendee happened to have of Lewis’ upcoming book about his relationship with Dean Martin. Clearly upset by the young man’s possession of the book, Lewis chastised the man and suggested the galley was another example of piracy. He took the man’s book and sent him back to his seat.

“Pirating is going to hurt your business and the creative process,” he told the crowd of primarily retailers. He then related a story of how the unauthorized availability of his movies with Martin thwarted a deal he and his daughter were negotiating with Universal, which would have meant at least $8 million for his daughter’s company. (A collection of Lewis & Martin films are slated for DVD release next year.)

The attendee, Will Keenan of Go-Kart Films, later told Daily Variety that Lewis returned the book after his speech and even signed it, when Keenan explained that a friend reviews books and obtained it legitimately.

Andersen used the platform to continue his campaign of raising awareness of piracy, including actions the industry can take to make consumers more aware.

He first demonstrated the ease of piracy by inviting an Internet downloading neophyte from the audience onstage to see how quickly he could access the Morpheus Web site and find hundreds of options for downloading a pristine copy of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” which was just announced hours earlier for a DVD release in November.

FAIR deal

Andersen also announced the winner of a short filmmaker contest for the antipiracy “Project: FAIR” (Filmmakers Against Illegal Replication). The VSDA will make Joshua Smith’s short film “Taken Away” available to retailers and theater owners to use as a public service spot to discourage illegal copying and distribution of art in general.

Andersen said last year’s MPAA antipiracy spot was good but not enough. “In my view, there absolutely must be many such messages, delivered many more places.”

Before concluding, Andersen sounded a cautionary note to studios and consumer electronics companies currently on the verge of releasing incompatible high-def digital disc formats to consumers as the next-generation DVD.

“I suppose no one here fails to recognize that concurrent distribution of more than one format is likely unsustainable. Yet our industry has seemingly chosen conflict over compromise.”

At tonight’s VSDA Home Entertainment 2005 at the Bellagio Hotel & Resort, special recognition will be given to:

Vin Diesel, named Male Star of the Year; Patrick Swayze, who’ll be awarded the Independent Career Achievement Award; and Penelope Spheeris, who will receive the inaugural Groundbreaker Award for her producing-directing career.

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