Studios cut PSP titles

A correction was made to this artcile on Feb. 16, 2006.

Sony’s PlayStation Portable isn’t turning out to be the hot new movie platform many in the biz had hoped.

With sales falling below expectations, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Paramount Home Entertainment and Warner Home Video are cutting back on movie releases for the PSP.

While comedies that appeal to the core young male gamer demo are doing well, execs say other PSP movies simply aren’t selling.

Sony handheld device plays games, movies and music.

In a bid to boost the format, execs from SPHE and sister unit Sony Computer Electronics America, which sells the PSP, are touting a new adapter that would allow a user to watch a PSP pic on a TV.

If it’s successful, that could overcome widespread criticism that consumers have to buy two separate copies of a movie to watch on PSP and TV.

Execs plan to visit other studios to tout the adapter in the next month.

“It would be a huge boost to (PSP movies) if we can arrange for the disc to play on TV players,” said SPHE prexy Ben Feingold.

In the meantime, Sony is cutting back on new releases and adding to its comedy slate for PSP with Monty Python content and “Not Another Teen Movie.” Feingold said comedy has turned out to be the sweet spot on the format — the top-selling PSP release is Fox’s “Napoleon Dynamite.”

Paramount’s biggest PSP successes have been TV comedies such as “Chappelle’s Show — Vol. 1″ and “Beavis & Butthead — The Mike Judge Collection: Vol. 1.”

Par has no new PSP releases planned for the coming months, though a spokeswoman said the studio would continue to look at releasing select films in the format.

Top PSP movie performers generally sell more than 100,000 units, though the average release posts sales closer to 40,000-50,000 units.

Some have reasoned that sales may have slowed recently because of a shortage of new titles in the last month and because users may be illegally copying films from DVDs onto a memory chip the PSPs can read.

Sony is hoping to combat online piracy starting in March when it begins selling movies online via its Connect digital media store. Users will be able to download a pic and watch it on PSP without a disc.

Warner Home Video, which only began releasing movies in the format in November, pulled six planned PSP titles, including “Goodfellas,” from its slate of releases previously set for an April-June rollout.

“We are re-evaluating our position on any future releases at this time,” said Jeff Baker, Warner senior VP and general manager of theatrical catalog.  “We’re looking at this on a case-by-case basis. We’re disappointed with consumer demand at this time.”

The studio moves come as retailers are said to be cutting out shelf space for PSP movies with hit-and-miss sales.

“We continue to carry most new titles,” said Virgin buyer Chris Anstey, “and there is a modest demand for them, but there simply hasn’t been a consistent growth of this new format to justify making more space for it. We have been encouraged by the results of a couple successful campaigns that we’ve featured to help promote them, but the overall impact of the format has still been nominal.”

Industryites say retailers are being flooded with new discs and view underperforming PSP movies as an area for cutbacks with upcoming high-def releases set to reach market in the coming months. 

“With standard definition, HD DVD, Blu-ray and PSP, all these formats take up space,” said one retail source. “Consumers aren’t going to buy three or four configurations of the same movie. Something has to give.”

Sony recently announced it would start bundling some DVD and UMD titles, including “The Grudge,” “Underworld” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” in combo packs priced at $28.95, slightly higher than for DVDs alone.

Overall, Sony has shipped more than 10 million PSP units worldwide since it went on sale a year ago, making it a moderate success but not a smash hit. Nintendo DS, another handheld gaming system that went on sale a few months earlier, has shipped 14.4 million units.

(Ben Fritz contributed to this report.)

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