Par to seek staggered disc releases

Blu-ray sale version to precede rental copies

Paramount Home Entertainment hopes to boost two growing segments of the home entertainment business — Blu-ray sales and Blu-ray and DVD rentals — with a staggered release strategy that holds DVDs back from retail sales for a month or more after a title’s initial release.

On September 8, the studio’s “Dance Flick” will be released as an unrated Blu-ray edition; the rated, standard DVD will be available only as a rental. The Blu-ray includes outtakes, deleted scenes and an alternate ending; the rental version holds only the movie.

A standard-definition sell-through version of “Dance Flick” will roll out to retail four to eight weeks later, according to the studio. It’s not clear what extras may be included on this edition.

Paramount wants to expand Blu-ray consumption by giving the format a head start while capitalizing on the upswing in rentals. According to Rentrak, U.S. rental revenues of both formats rose 8.3% for the first half of 2009, while DVD sales fell more than 15%, according to the Digital Entertainment Group. Blu-ray sales almost doubled.

“We have been strategically evaluating new and innovative ways to maximize retail opportunities for each individual title,” said Ken Williams, executive VP sales for Paramount. “We believe that a DVD rental window will increase revenue in that channel and that releasing a Blu-ray exclusively for sell-through will help drive adoption of the format, so it’s a win-win scenario.”

Paramount has not announced any other titles that will be subject to the new staggered release policy. A studio spokeswoman indicated that Paramount will evaluate each title and implement strategy on a case-by-case basis.

The studio’s plans follow Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment pioneering the bow of Blu-ray versions before standard editions. Although many retailers failed to comply, Disney intended Blu-ray editions of “Bolt” and “Bedtime Stories” to be released several days before their standard versions reached shelves. Disney will next roll out “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” on Blu-ray on October 6, seven weeks before the standard DVD hits November 24.

In contrast to Paramount, Disney typically bundles a standard DVD inside its Blu-ray family releases, making the early release Blu-ray titles accessible to anyone. Paramount will not package a DVD with the Blu-ray of “Dance Flick.”

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