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Site created 12/15/97.


page added: 3/1/99



What Doogan did on his Winter Holiday

Folks, I'm getting married, so I've been pretty much hidden in the back wings of The Digital Bits. I've watched news come and go, and all the time, I've been sketching out my personal opinions. So, even though it's not very timely, I've written my views about some of the last big noises heard here at the Bits.

Robert Kmetz wrote me earlier this year - Hi Rob. I never replied to him, because it prompted me to start writing about what Divx means to me. I wanted it to be fresh and real when he got his answer, and not just my opinion. What he wanted to know was, is Divx was truly evil incarnate? Well, we all know The Digital Bits is pretty much an Anti-Divx site, mostly because that's how creator/editor Bill Hunt got involved with DVD. It's a position that has prompted most studios to think we were evil incarnate, not the other way around. This isn't fair, and it's taken plenty of sweet talk by both of us to get studios to think we were the best thing since DVD-18. The truth is, at the time Bill started this site (and in some cases this is still the view for some uninformed consumers out there), Divx is looked at as a Big Brother-type deal. The popular thinking is that Divx is a place where someone you don't know, knows exactly what your viewing patterns are, has the ability to control how you view your favorite flicks, and you are paying many times over for something you essentially own. I mean, hell - it's in your house, so it's yours... right?

Funny thing is, that's pretty much how satellite TV works. Lots of tech heads and "early adopters" utilize that, and don't have a problem with it. The big question for me is, "Why is Divx such a big deal?" Is it as bad as everyone says it is? It's beyond me at this point. So that's why I asked around. What you'll read below is all true, factual stuff. It comes from the mouths of the people who run DVD, Divx and the home video business. It's peppered with my opinion, but my opinion is now based on what I've learned to be true.

Divx is viewed with negativity, because it's lining up with the studios, and the studios are holding back certain titles from the open DVD format. Ed Wood, X-Files and so on, can only be viewed on Divx -- and to people who have already invested in DVD, it's just a bunch of crap that we, as consumers, don't want to deal with. It's pretty inconvenient at this point for we, the people who already invested, to go out and repurchase equipment so that we can see our favorite titles in our favorite format. Maybe in the future this wouldn't be so awe stirring, but when it's only been a few months between investments, you're going to bump into loads of problems.

See, it's not just the audacity of Divx, it's also the studios themselves. The studios claim that (with Divx) they can better control their product from piracy. Ahhhh. People have been duping product for years. Pirates don't care about quality, and they will figure out a way to make their own money off someone else's product anyway. That's what pirates do. The studios limiting their audience seems pretty stupid just for the sake of pirates. Divx promises to be virtually pirate proof, with even more safeguards on the way. The studios like this idea... well, that and the fact that they get to see profits grow every time you watch a movie.

The main contributor in this idea is Buena Vista (aka Disney, or Team Rodent) depending on who you talk to. Divx has available to them a wide range of Buena Vista titles. How can this happen? Well, the simple answer is money and time. Disney gets a lot of money from Divx and, in exchange, Divx has a contract that allows them access and reign over the product they license. It also helps that they make their own discs. When it comes to DVD, Disney does their own stuff in-house. The reason they only put 3 titles out a month, is because they do it themselves. The quality of said discs is pretty good - not the best we've seen, but better than most. Divx on the other hand, creates the discs they make from master tapes delivered by Disney. Disney can drop off 12 titles a week, and Divx can convert those masters into discs at a higher rate. Most people will tell you the quality of Divx isn't very good as compared to open DVD, because they slam their stuff out quicker. Their contract allows them to pretty much do what they want with the film audio and video wise, so they don't fall victim (like other licensees of Disney product) to dictatorship because of lower license costs. A perfect example of this dictatorship, is Criterion's version of Armageddon: a political mess involving Michael Bay, Disney execs and Criterion, a small company dedicated to quality DVD and laserdiscs.

Personally, I don't feel that Divx is truly bad, it's just a piss poor movement of the video industry. And that, in itself, is reason enough to hate them. With DVD, the studios will find people slowly moving into a new realm of home video. It isn't going to be simply the cinephile who buys movies on DVD every week -- it's going to be everyone. It's getting to the point where people will just own something if it costs them $14-19 bucks to do it. Video stores will always exist, if only because people will always want to see things that they don't want to pay full price for. Although, if prices for rentals go up any more than they have, then smart thinkers will just assume for another $10 bucks, they can just own the damn thing on DVD. If DVD were allowed to grow at an affordable rate, we'd find the video industry turning into something more like the book publishing industry, where people just buy the content to use once or twice, and then sell it back later (to a used bookstore or some such). We don't see libraries folding, because people will always have a need to go back and see something they let go, or might not be available anymore for sale.

Speaking of used bookstores, the other day, I performed a little experiment. I took about three DVDs to a used CD shop near my house, that recently started to buy DVDs also. All were special edition discs, but of older film titles. I wanted to find out what they offer for used DVDs, so I could let all of you know if it was a good idea to sell them this way. For four $29.95 MSRP titles, he offered me $10. Not each, mind you -- total. I asked why, if he was selling used discs at $18.99 each, was he offering only $2.50 for these brand new titles? "Well," he said, "if I offered you any more, I'd take a loss. I'd only get $6 dollars for these titles." Keep in mind, all were new discs. But to him they were old, because they were older titles. So then I asked where he got off thinking like that. His reply (get this) was to pull out a newspaper sales insert from a local Media Play and show that older title DVDs were only selling for $9.99. Hee-hee. Now I'm thinking, Mother Load - where is this place? Until I looked at the titles -- they were all of the cheap Warner titles I've recently reviewed here at the Bits in capsule form. I laughed as I walked out. So the lesson: Don't go thinking you can make some extra money off your DVDs right now. As long as these guys are uninformed, you get screwed. I'll say right now - don't (and I repeat, DO NOT) try and sell your discs to used CD shops. They will think you're uneducated about the product and try and screw you. What I suggest to all of you out there is, sell 'em on Ebay, if you need to get rid of 'em. It's fast and easy. I buy books all the time there, and I haven't met one dishonest person yet. I'm sure I will, but so far, it's been safe and clean.

Okay, so where as I? Oh, yeah. Divx. Well, Divx, at least in my mind, is an extension of the old video format -- rent, rent, rent. If you're gonna buy the thing, why not own it? Maybe it would be different if there were a single disc you buy to access the system, and then (from your player) you could choose millions of movies and watch them whenever you wanted. That would make more sense than buying a disc for every single film you want, and then having to "rent" it if you want to see it again. It systematically puts you in the position of housing rental material like a Blockbuster. Take it from someone who owns a boatload of DVD titles -- you run out of room.

The one positive note about Divx is cost. If you do the math, it's cheaper to play by Divx rules. $5 dollars to by the disc and watch it once or twice in a row. After that you pay, $10 more bucks in the next 5 years if you ever want to see that flick again. You can have a huge library of titles you may not want to watch over and over again (and which you can make "unlimited" for $15 bucks). Your total is $15 dollars to own a movie that, on DVD, would cast you about $29 regularly -- or more if the rental window movement for DVD takes hold.

Speaking of that, we've all read in the Rumor Mill about the retail price of DVD most likely going up. To be more exact, there's going to be a retail window in effect for DVD, much the same way as there is one for VHS video. The truth is, any way you candy coat it, the retail price is eventually going to go up. It's true folks, it's still just a rumor, but it's a true one.

Let's just get this one thing out of the way - there is a misconception about rental windows. The window idea is built totally around profit. When a flick goes theatrical, it makes loads of cash. Then it goes into foreign distribution. Depending on the star, subject matter or whatever, it'll make an even bigger boat-load of cash. Then the movie will go to video. Most or all of the money gained in video is profit, aside from the video production costs. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Okay, so some of us are now all pissed, hoping that the rental window thing won't happen, because face it, DVD is a collector's market. We buy stuff day-and-date of release, because we love DVD, movies and owning our own titles. Regardless of cost, and just because Divx virtually costs less, it's still a hassle and a burden. We all have a vested interest at this point anyway. Those of us who are passionate about DVD, already own an expensive player, and we dedicate ourselves 100% to the format by renting and buying the movies we love. Do the studios care, really? Yes and no. The thinking is (and this is especially true with a certain mouse house), if you're willing to buy it, you're willing to spend whatever money. If it's priced at $100 bucks, you'll still buy it if you really want it. You might rent it 3 or 4 times before you do, and that's more money in the pocket of big business. Hell - just look at the going rate for an old video edition of Lady and The Tramp, and then tell me people aren't willing to slam down good money for something they "just have to own".

Studios are making us jump through hoops to prove ourselves. Take, for example, the idea of "needing credit to have credit". In order for Disney to invest more time, money and product to DVD, we have to show that families are interested in family product. So far, the majority of DVD sales are to mid-20 something couples or tech-head bachelors. Disney believes that there is no interest for their animated product, because not enough families own DVD players. How do they know this? No one bought their Beauty And The Beast: Enchanted Christmas disc. Oh. Their Good Will Hunting Special is selling gangbusters, which goes to show the 20 something interest, but since no one was willing to drop $40 bucks for a made-for-video title, we get no classics. The question I have is, what happens if Disney releases The Little Mermaid or Aladdin for a window of three months onto DVD? The answer is soon to be learned when A Bug's Life, Mulan and Dumbo come out. Everyone and their mother will buy them, player or not. They'll sell out, and will go up and up in price until people are auctioning them on Ebay for $75 bucks to start. It's going to be ridiculous.

Essentially, the studios are missing an opportunity to re-exploit and reinvent the video industry. As long as they base their thinking on a preexisting format, they aren't going to pull in new audiences and make more money. I understand the rental window thinking, and it's not damaging -- but I really hope that the long meetings in the studios pertaining to new marketing strategies aren't fruitless. Hang tight everyone, let's cross those fingers, and hope that people with brains enough to make it in La-La Land can actually think.

I'm done with my rant, and I promise to get back soon with something more interesting. I've just been away from the industry for a while. Here's what I have coming up. I'm doing an expose on the whole audio sync problem that's going on with DVD. What the hell is going on - is it the players, software or a little of both? You'll find out when I go neck-deep in the world of DVD production. Also coming up: Who is Don May, Jr. and why is he becoming one of the hottest players in DVD? We go head-to-head with the man who has heard Silent Bob talk, and walked away with a deal. You can also expect to learn about the adult DVD world. I'll be pulling a Nic Cage, and heading into the candy-coated world of adult video, to find out exactly why the only people in the video industry who are really trying to exploit DVD are the porn producers. It should be fun, and I know I'm gonna enjoy the research.

Until then, I'm Doogan - full of sound and fury, signifying not a damn thing.

Editor's Note: Write Doogan at todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com, if you have any ideas for future inside looks, interviews, or you just want to find out how great / crappy a DVD is. He'll write ya back, and if he doesn't -- he's probably dead.


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