Friday, December 2, 2011

The predominant physical delivery method for movies?

There are moments in life when you notice a shift in the way things are done -- in the way people talk about things, in the way people do things. The shift doesn't occur in that moment, of course -- it's gradual. But there's always a moment when you first acknowledge it.

I had one of those moments yesterday.

KCRW, the local NPR station, doesn't have commercials of course -- it's public radio. But it does have little sponsorship interstitials to pimp the underwriters, which are different from commercials, I guess, in the sense that the station produces the promos rather than the underwriters themselves. And it's supposed to be just an acknowledgement, a brief piece that doesn't contain any discussion of the actual quality or benefits of the product in question.

Many of these are for movies. I like hearing them because, you know, I like movies. Sometimes they're for movies currently in theaters. Sometimes they're for movies that are allegedly still in theaters, but really are not. (I just heard one for The Ides of March on my way in to work.) And sometimes they're for movies that are about to arrive on video. As in the one I heard yesterday, which went something like this:

"KCRW is brought to you by The Help, from Dreamworks Pictures. Available on BluRay December 6th."

The first thing I thought was, "Well, what if I want to get it on DVD?"

The second thing I thought was, "Ah, I get it -- DVD is yesterday's news. BluRay is now where it's at."

This interstitial implied two things to me:

1) There are really no new movies anymore that are not being released on BluRay. I kind of knew that, but it took something like this to make me consciously acknowledge it.

2) It is sort of assumed that pretty much everyone has BluRay now. Enough that advertising its arrival on DVD seems outdated.

In the past, I believe KCRW said "available on DVD and BluRay." But DVD has now been dropped. The Help probably wasn't the first time it was dropped -- it was just the first time I noticed it.

I find this kind of fascinating. We only just bought our BluRay player in August of 2010, and we weren't the last among our friends to get one. But by now, since it doesn't cost a king's ransom to invest in one, KCRW is assuming that everyone has one -- everyone who's anyone, anyway. Everyone who's really serious about movies.

Of course, this could just be one random decision made by one random KCRW copywriter. But really, nothing is random when it comes to writing copy. There's an intention behind everything, especially when it's short and it's pre-recorded, meaning it will play multiple times over a couple weeks. It must be efficient and it must default to the greatest level of accessibility for the most listeners.

And for the most listeners, BluRay seems to have become the most relevant medium for them to watch new movies. So says/thinks KCRW, anyway.

Now, not every part of the video industry reflects this. If you walk up to a Redbox kiosk, you will still find many more movies available on DVD than on BluRay -- maybe only half the titles are also available on BluRay, and it may be even fewer when you consider that Redbox also stocks timely old releases (you know, holiday classics around this time of year). And you won't find anything in a Redbox kiosk that's only available on BluRay. They've made the judgment that with a finite amount of physical storage space, they can serve a wider array of customers by skewing the inventory toward DVD. (It also helps that you can play DVDs in BluRay players, but not the reverse.)

But I do think it's reasonable for KCRW to have graduated beyond saying "available on DVD December 6th." When you come right down to it, perhaps it is starting to sound a little quaint.

I suppose one way around it would be to say "available on video December 6th," because the word "video" does still function as a catch-all for movies you no longer have to go to a movie theater to see. (I used it in the fourth paragraph of this piece without even thinking about it, and I bet you didn't blink.) But if we're talking solely about the impression created in the listener, the term "video" could also remind some people of "video tape." And that is certainly quaint, as they haven't made video tapes of new movies for probably six or seven years. (I got my first DVD player in 2003, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't forced into doing so by the total obsolescence of the video tape.)

Or maybe it's just that KCRW wants to sound progressive. It's no secret that many of the people who listen to public radio are liberals who probably have a decent amount of money. Your average joe may not have converted to BluRays -- you never see BluRays positioned as an impulse buy at the checkout stand at the grocery store, for example -- but maybe your average KCRW listener demands the highest quality standards for his/her movie-watching experience.

Well, I'm just glad we still watch movies using physical artifacts at all. If the prices they're charging at Target for BluRays these days -- as low as $5 for some older releases (I just bought Terminator 2: Judgment Day at that price) -- are any indication, movies as physical artifacts are on their way out, too. Of course, that's hardly the only indication of that reality. Just ask the music industry.

And so I'm expecting another day like this to come in, what, three years? Five years? KCRW will have an interstitial that says:

"KCRW is brought to you by The Hunger Games 3, available in Ultraviolet and on the cloud December 6th."


Mike Lippert said...

What I find interesting about advances in technology is how, as soon as the newest thing comes out there are people who will jump on the bandwagon and declare it the supior medium because it is the newest, the most expensive, etc. That's what happened with VHS to DVD and now DVD to Blu-Ray.

VSH to DVD I was the justification to: they would last longer, you don't need to worry about your machine eating them, they can take more damage, no need to rewind, and widescreen presentation. It was home video getting as close as it could to the theatrical expereince.

Fine, I bought into DVD but that was because of all the reasons above. AS a wrote some months ago, my DVD copy of Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles looks like it was recorded off or some old VHS and I wouldn't have it any other way as that's how that movie is supposed to look. To clean it up, and put it on Blu-ray would lose it's special hand-made quality. It's all about the transfere after all, not the product. I have a friend who owns a copy of Evil Dead on Blu-Ray and I don't even want to see what it looks like.

Therefore, although I've converted, I've only rarely felt that Blu-ray justified the extra cost over a regular DVD except in the cases of cartoons and other such fare. Blue-ray is essentially made to make comupter generated effects look better.

And really, if I have to see a movie at home, nothing will compare to the theatrical expereince so what does it matter. Most good Blu-ray players do a fine job of converted regular DVDs up to 1080P anyway and only those who sit and stare will ever notice a significant difference.

Then there is the matter that Blu-ray hasn't even yet perfected itself so that it can be used to it's max capacity. I don't keep up on a regular basis but last time I read there still has yet to be created the technology to read the 3rd and 4th layer of a Blu-ray disc and another friend has said that as soon as green lasers are perfected, Blu-ray will be a thing of the past.

I agree with your last statement and can even see the day when theatrical exhibition ceases to exist. It's too costly, to much work to maintain and takes to long to keep up with the technology (it wasn't long after 3D projection became the big thing that 3D TVs took away some of it's shine, etc.) Even today, you go to a video store and it's staggering how many name actors (both big and small) appear on the shelves on the covers of movies you never even knew were being made, let alone released. Direct-to-video is becoming more and more of a reality every day especially with Hollywood budgets skyrocketing and independants finding it harder and harder to compete in an overcrowded marketplace. Direct-to-video is the only sensible option to make a profit.

It's a sad reality, but a reality nontheless.

Vancetastic said...


I agree about not tending to be an early adopter. I'm very skeptical of the mindset that leads people to always want, say, the latest new gadget Apple has released. It seems to be a mixture of herd mentality, brainwashing and this kind of insecurity about possibly being left behind. I take pride in my inherently analog ways (which is odd to say, since I work in IT).

It's funny, the first few times I saw something on BluRay, I was in fact wowed by the difference. Since then I have not consciously noticed it, at least not very much. It's interesting to hear about the other potential technical advancements you mention here -- which will probably also not have a huge impact on us after our first exposure to them.

I think it's telling that when I bought a new laptop in May, I chose not to get a BluRay player in it. Part of my thinking was: "If I'm watching it on a computer screen anyway, I'm already compromising my experience of watching the film." I guess the only potential drawback is that I won't be able to play the BluRays I own in my computer, but it seems like many BluRays come with a DVD copy these days anyway.