Vista's Chris Carey talks
Widescreen on DVD
many of you are probably aware, there's been some controversy
recently over studios releasing select widescreen films (usually "children"
or "family" titles) in full frame aspect ratios on DVD
only. But what constitutes a family film? Certainly, you could call
Warner's Willy Wonka a family
film, but the idea that Warner tried to release it in full frame
only recently gave a lot of DVD fans the plain old willies. The
studio rational is that as DVD has gotten more mainstream, average
consumers just don't like the black bars. But avid DVD fans believe
that all films should be released on DVD in their original
theatrical aspect ratios. So what's the solution? This morning we
had the chance to speak with Chris Carey, who is the Senior Vice
President of Worldwide DVD Production and Technical Operations for
Buena Vista Home Entertainment. So here's the transcript of our
conversation. Next week, we'll speak with another BVHE
representative on the marketing perspective of the same topic. Keep
in mind, our goal with these interviews is simply to let the studio
explain their side of the issue and let them address your most often
voiced concerns. You should all know by now where we stand. We'll
let you decide how you feel about it.
Bill Hunt (The Digital Bits):
Hi Chris... thanks for taking the time to talk with us. I know this
is a difficult issue for you guys.
Chris Carey (Buena Vista Home
Entertainment): Yeah, for all the studios. Just so you
know, I'm really only able to address the technical realities of
this. You'll be able to talk with our brand marketing people to get
the official Disney opinion about what we're going to try to do. But
I can certainly address the obvious technical questions. Like... "Well,
can you put both versions of the film on a disc?"
Bill Hunt: And that's
obviously the first question most of our readers would ask, because
clearly it has been done before.
Chris Carey: Yes, it has been
done before. And I'd do it when we can. But, generally speaking on a
DVD-9, if you put two versions of a movie on - meaning you're
talking about three hours of programming - you're really
compromising the quality. The MPEG-2 compression levels that you
have to drop down to to get that much run time on a movie is really
questionable. I've sometimes made recommendations on a title against
including both versions for that very reason. Pearl
Harbor we put across two discs for that reason.
Bill Hunt: Now we're talking
DVD-9, which is a single-sided, dual-layered disc.
Chris Carey: Yes.
Single-sided, dual-layer. Then beyond that purely technical issue,
you start getting into economics and consumer satisfaction issues.
I've read many an article, and it's not new news to you - the vast
majority of America wants full frame. They do. And when we put out a
widescreen version, we get lots of, "What's wrong? My DVD is
broken. I want my money back." And we get that from really a
surprisingly large number of consumers, especially when you're
talking about family titles that are more likely to be watched by a
broader audience in a non-technical environment. Where they're
probably watching on a 19-inch TV or smaller.
Bill Hunt: The question then
would be... certainly there's a demand for both full frame and
widescreen. And there's a need to serve both markets whenever you
Chris Carey: Exactly.
Bill Hunt: If getting both
versions on a DVD-9 is prohibitive because of quality, what about
going with a double-sided disc, like Warner and Columbia TriStar
have done many times? Include widescreen on one side and full frame
on the other.
Chris Carey: You can do that,
but right now replication capabilities for the double-sided means
that it's DVD-5... actually, I mean DVD-10, which means it's
single-layer but dual-sided. The replication capacity for DVD-18
just isn't there yet. There's only a very limited number of
facilities that can do that. We are looking at that. But then, the
issue with double-sided is that, particularly when you're talking
about a family title, you're giving up the ability to put disc art
on it. You've got only that inner ring to put text on it. And for a
little kid who's trying to navigate it, he's not sure which side is
up and which side he's gonna get. So those are all some of the
questions we ask ourselves. I think, obviously, in some instances in
the past - and some instances in the future, when we think there is
appetite there - the simplest solution is to put out two SKUs. But
that's got a big economic effect.
Bill Hunt: And retailers don't
like having two versions on their shelves.
Chris Carey: Retailers don't
like it and consumers still get confused. We did two versions on
102 Dalmatians and we had
customers asking, "Which one do I want?" People got
confused and didn't understand. So again, in these early days, we're
all trying to find the ground that makes the most sense. In a some
cases we may say, with this particular title and that particular
marketplace, maybe it makes sense to put out a full frame only. That
doesn't preclude us from later doing widescreen for a difference
audience if the demand is there. But I'll defer that to our brand
Bill Hunt: I think it's not
necessarily an unreasonable solution to do that, particularly for
select kids movies. The fear with DVD collectors though - and I
think they have reason to feel this way - is that they've seen other
studios... well, for example Warner Brothers. Warner decided that
Willy Wonka was a "family"
film, so they were going to release the collector's edition on DVD
in full frame only. And that was just plain ridiculous. The fear is,
who is making these decisions? Is it some guy with a marketing
degree, with little love or knowledge of the film or the audience,
looking only at spreadsheets? It's one thing to go full frame only
when it's Tickle Me Elmo, but
it's a whole other thing when you're looking at doing it for, say,
The Lion King. That's the real
fear - that that could conceivably happen. And so what the
enthusiasts tend to do, is to make early, strong pre-emptive
reactions against the studios anytime they see anything
that's widescreen get released full frame only. Because they're
afraid that one thing will lead to another, and pretty soon it gets
out of hand and you're talking about lots of widescreen films
released full frame only.
Chris Carey: Well, I'm quite
certain that - at least from my perspective - that our company is
pretty darn thorough when considering these things. I come from a
film background myself, and I have my position on this, which gets
heard. It's a pretty good consensus that we take that balances the
creative, the enthusiast and the consumer all together. But as I
said, we're still trying to find the right balance. As the
demographic changes for our clientele, we've got to try to change to
Bill Hunt: And the reality is,
in ten or fifteen years when everyone is watching widescreen HDTVs -
however long it takes - this becomes a moot issue anyway. Of your
upcoming titles, what percentage would you say is affected by the
decision to go with full frame only?
Chris Carey: I don't have a
percentage for you, but I wouldn't say we're making any long term
commitments. We're just trying some things with some titles, and
then we're going to react to how that plays out in the marketplace.
I don't think we've said forevermore. But clearly, the right thing
to do is to try it out on the titles that are more family oriented.
Bill Hunt: I know you guys
just announced your "Movie Showcase" collection through
October - lots of titles - and the first question we got from
hundreds of people was, "Which ones are full frame and which
are anamorphic widescreen?" So looking down the line, are we
only talking about 2 or 3 titles out of a 100? That's what people
Chris Carey: It's a small
percentage. I don't know the number.
Bill Hunt: I know I've
requested the details on that, so I'm expecting to be able to report
that fairly soon...
Chris Carey: Yeah. Ask the
right people. But again, it's gonna depend on the title. Most of the
Movie Showcase titles are adult SKU titles anyway, where we wouldn't
consider going full frame.
Bill Hunt: Am I safe in saying
that you wouldn't ever release your most loved classics or animated
titles or big films in one aspect ratio only?
Chris Carey: Sure. Things like
Beauty and the Beast, which is
coming this fall, and Snow White
last year... I would hope that both families and collectors continue
to be impressed with what we do there. We're gonna fire on all
cylinders there. The good ones will be super well treated. We're
right now in the throws of finishing Beauty
and the Beast and Monsters,
Inc. - buttoning them up and getting them into authoring.
The Pearl Harbor: Vista Series
comes out in July, which we think is really spectacular. We haven't
announced any others yet, but the upcoming summer slate will
obviously be out later this year and early next year, so we're
Bill Hunt: Thanks again for
your time, Chris.
Stay tuned for more discussion with Buena Vista on the widescreen
vs. full frame debate next week. As always, I welcome your comments.