Home audiences can multi-task as they watch DVDs

Watching a movie at home isn’t the experience it used to be.

With DVD sales experiencing a worrying decline this year, studios are desperately seeking ways to keep their lucrative homevideo business from collapsing. And they’re hoping new releases — especially Blu-rays — packed with an array of interactive features will encourage consumers to continue stocking their film libraries.

Bonus features on DVDs used to be limited to deleted scenes, blooper reels and commentary tracks. But studios feel they need to make home entertainment a less passive experience, because consumers have gotten addicted to multitasking, especially with the Web now accessible on virtually every device, including Blu-ray players and game consoles. Studios are essentially looking to capitalize on what viewers are doing online: playing games and social networking.

Some of the features are related to the film, some not. All seem created for folks with very short attention spans. Newer discs now instantly seek out an Internet connection to launch up-to-date weather reports or CNN-like scrolls that promote other products. Viewers can access Twitter and Facebook accounts. An email can send you songs heard in films or recipes for dishes a character is preparing. Filmmaker commentaries don’t need to be pre-recorded but can take place live. And trivia contests can turn iPhones into controllers to play along.

In the last couple of months, studios have introduced a clutch of new features in an effort to experiment and find out what works.

“As with any new rollout of new technology, we are getting a sense of what people like and what they don’t like,” says Rich Marty, VP of new business development for Sony Home Entertainment. “The real challenge is to stay relevant.”

Sony pushed hard to keep Hollywood’s homevideo biz relevant last year when its Blu-ray technology won the format war against HD-DVD.

Since then, it’s not only been touting Blu-ray’s video quality, but the capabilities of BD-Live, the brand studios have agreed to use to alert consumers that their DVDs boast the new interactive features.

Sony has produced 130 Blu-rays that feature BD-Live, and each of its films will feature the technology moving forward.

Considering its PlayStation 3 is a Blu-ray player and was relied upon early on to promote the homevid format upon its launch last year, Sony is looking to promote more videogames via its film releases.

The “District 9″ Blu-ray disc will include a playable game demo of the the game “God of War III,” bowing exclusively on the PS3 next year. The Blu-ray will also feature movieIQ and cinechat, where viewers can send onscreen instant messages to friends.

“There are a lot of different people and consumer behaviors you have to appeal to,” Marty says. “Blu-ray provides that multiplatform experience and lets us reach diverse consumers. Some things resonate and some things don’t. You just keep building upon it.”

In September, the studio said it would introduce movieIQ on future releases, which enables viewers to access an actor’s credits or find out the name of a song on a soundtrack, along with other forms of trivia. With upcoming release “Julie and Julia,” viewers will receive Julia Child recipes in their e-mail inboxes. A dozen titles, including “Angels and Demons” will include movieIQ by the end of the year.

At the other studios:

&bold; Fox has paired with IMDb.com (owned by Amazon) to plug the site’s service onto “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” and other releases. It’s putting considerable promotional weight behind FoxPop, which lets viewers compete in games using their iPhones while a DVD or Blu-ray is playing onscreen. When added to song-heavy films like “500 Days of Summer,” FoxPop will instantly suggest tunes viewers can buy via iTunes.

&bold; Disney has been targeting families with several features, including one that lets parents record video messages for children directly onto a Blu-ray. On “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” viewers can take a quiz that matches them with a princess, who then calls a designated phone number and relays a personal message. In a bit of corporate synergy, the Blu-ray for “Hannah Montana: The Movie” streams Radio Disney.

&bold; Warner Bros. has been hosting live community chats with filmmakers, and integrating Facebook onto its Blu-rays to let viewers update their status’ while watching movies. It will add videogame downloads on future releases.

&bold; For “Star Trek,” out next week, Paramount programmed the Blu-ray to give people live updates from NASA when watching the pic.

Like Fox, Paramount, Universal and Lionsgate have fully embraced the capabilities of the iPhone and the appeal of iPhone apps to sell more Blu-rays.

On U’s “Fast and Furious,” viewers can use iPhones to remotely control a car displayed on their TVs.

Paramount Home Entertainment launched Mobile-Blu in September that enables fans to watch BD-Live content

on portable devices like the iPhone and soon the Android and BlackBerry phones.

“We think this should be standard on every Blu-ray disc,” says Curt Doty, executive VP of advanced content at Trailer Park, which created the Mobile-Blu application. “We see BD-Live as a connection to what’s popular.”

While that may be the case, there’s no proof yet that any of the new BD-Live features are selling more DVDs.

The top sellers are still the movies that performed the best at the box office: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and “Twilight” are the top sellers of the year.

Still studios aren’t giving up on the potential appeal of BD-Live.

“The first year for BD-Live was to throw out ideas and see what happens, and the lesson learned is that we need more existing Web services,” says Zane Vella, CEO for Blu-ray services firm Related Content Database. “Instead of just creating stuff from scratch, (studios will) leverage other websites. The technology is there for the taking.”

The familiarity of popular websites is also seen as a valuable marketing tool to move more Blu-rays.

Sony is looking at ways to add Twitter to its Blu-rays that will let viewers read friends’ tweets on TV screens while watching movies.

And by eventually letting studios link to sites like Amazon to sell Blu-rays, there’s the added benefit for studios to put more coin into their coffers.

Individual studios may be developing their own features for BD-Live, but so far studios are playing nice with each other and sharing what works. The thinking goes that if a feature sells a ton of DVDs, it may help overall biz sell even more.

Sony is promoting its movieIQ service to other studios. And Par and Fox are exploring ways to doll up Blu-ray packaging with augmented reality, which lets consumers swipe a DVD across a webcam to view 3-D images on their computer screens. For instance, with “Star Trek,” the U.S.S. Enterprise will blast out from the logo.

“They’re not always designed to be exclusives,” Marty says. “It’s seen as a bigger opportunity for the (Blu-ray) format when other studios can utilize really cool features.”

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