Jul 30, 2013

THE PASSION OF THE FANS – They want their content their way, not excuses!

Everyone by now knows that in terms of content delivery the Internet has been nothing short of an an absolute game changer.  What it also has provided is to bring consumers closer to content providers allowing them one-on-one access for a direct conversation about the product.  Where once people were restricted to writing physical letters with stamps, or calling the studios directly with the chance of reaching anyone being remote, now within seconds of an announcement fans can post their thoughts – good or bad - through online forums or even tweet the companies directly.  Disney Home Entertainment has said that they used to receive at least one letter or phone call daily asking about a domestic Home Entertainment release of SONG OF THE SOUTH (which they have declined to do due to cultural sensitivities connected with the film) and I’m sure that with the direct access of the Internet that number has increased ten-fold.

Disney's Song of the South

Having been in the entertainment industry for a number of years – and for the record, I am also a fan – I have come to be friends with many people involved in the home entertainment world including companies such as 20th Century Fox, The Warner Archive, Shout Factory as well as their horror-branded label Scream Factory.  Having been around these people at conventions like the San Diego Comic-Con and posting their announcements through various social media outlets I don’t envy them one thing – having to try to please everyone.  I have watched as fans have peppered and badgered them with questions such as why haven’t they released “X” title yet, why does the print on “X” look so bad, why are there no special features on the disc and why is a title only on DVD and not Blu-ray.   This has become even more of a factor now more than ever as specialty labels such as Scream Factory, The Warner Archive, Olive Films, The Criterion Collection and Twilight Time have been licensing and releasing content that the studios don’t want to spend the money on, sometimes in limited or manufactured-on-demand bare-bones editions (soundtrack labels like Intrada and La-La Land Records do the same for film scores).  These labels have to work overtime to promote their titles and therefore the representatives are more exposed to fans than say Fox, Paramount or Disney.  The Warner Archive for instance has a weekly podcast that invites listeners to write in with their questions, the caveat being that the mail come through the traditional “snail mail” route meaning pen and paper (in some instances, crayon) with a good old-fashioned USPS stamp affixed.  I’m guessing this keeps the level of negative or crazy requests to a minimum and is a smart move on their part.

The Warner Archive provides classic movies on DVD manufactured-on-demand

While most of the fans are respectful and excited about the content through their questions and posts and “likes” via social media, there are a large number of people that get literally hostile and belligerent for no apparent reason.  For instance, this past Comic-Con I tweeted about Fox Home Entertainment’s booth promoting their upcoming December release of the 1987 film PREDATOR on Blu-ray 3D which went directly onto my Facebook page as well.  Within a minute or two, an individual posted a comment that can be more described as a “rant” about how he hates 3D, 3D TVs and ended with “thanks a lot Fox”.  My initial reaction before I pulled down the comment was and still is this – fine then don’t buy it.  Was the rant really all that necessary?  I don't think so.  This same individual last year (not to pick on him specifically but he has provided the best examples) jumped all over a post about the Blu-ray release of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN slamming the studio about being lazy with the quality of their released in regards to a comment I made about the disc being a “worthwhile double dip upgrade of the DVD”.

Fox Home Entertainment promotes their December release of PREDATOR on Blu-ray 3D

Not that all critical comments are bad.  The studios should be called out when they release a sub-par product which was the case with the original Blu-ray disc edition of PREDATOR which is probably why the individual mentioned above went into such a rant.  His method of doing so wasn't productive, although another individual on my page did make a constructive comment mentioning that a better 2D release would be welcomed with open arms.  This latter comment is the type that studios will respond to as it goes after an obvious flaw in a previously released edition that hopefully will be rectified.  (Note: the PREDATOR Blu-ray 3D does come in a combo pack with a 2D disc so here's hoping the 2D edition has been remastered as well based on the comments from the fans).  There have been times when the studios have re-issued new editions of titles which 1 or 2 additional features claiming a "big new edition" often which infuriates those who bought the original product and want this extra content - and rightly so.  

Scream Factory, Shout Factory's label for horror content

These kind of angry reactions are fairly routine for the Internet as I have seen numerous ones in a similar vein – and nastier – on threads and forums like when the Criterion collection announces upcoming titles and get slammed for what’s not included rather than being praised for what is.  It’s proof that in the Internet age the consumer really relishes the control on what they feel they should be getting and how they should be getting it in terms of content very seriously.  One past work associate of mine even went so far as to state “what have the music or movie industries done for me?  I should be allowed to download their material for free” in a discussion we had regarding illegal music and movie downloads.  I believe the answer to that is no you shouldn’t, it’s a product from a company the same as an iPad, TV, Washer or Dryer but again it’s about the consumers wanting the content however they can get it, but demanding more than the industry can sometimes provide them with.

These are not stupid people saying these things as most fans at this level are well-educated, well-read, well-watched and fairly in tune to what goes on via the Internet.  Here’s the deal though, the studios and labels can only provide what they have access to and can afford based on consumer demand.  Many titles can’t be released due to missing elements and legal issues which includes seemingly inane things like a music track that is embedded in the content but hasn’t been licensed for a specific outlet and is too expensive for the licensee to dish out for and still provide the product at a reasonable price for consumers.  Not every title has consumer support to demand special features being included which begs the question, at what point is it enough that the title is even making it to disc in the first place especially given the fact that most content is moving online to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu or through VOD and Digital Distribution?  As was discussed at the annual Digital Bits DVD Producer’s panel at Comic-con, even the limited edition numbered titles (usually around 3000 – 5000 copies) haven’t been selling out which doesn’t help convince the studios that these titles are worth releasing at a retail level.  Some have though such as Twilight Time’s release of John Carpenter’s CHRISTINE which sold out in minutes, but that’s an exception and not the norm.  Not to mention brick-and-mortar outlets like Target and Best Buy have been shrinking their home media product areas dramatically making more room for bigger ticket items.  

Not that the studios don’t listen to constructive feedback.  An associate of mine who once worked in DVD mastering at a major studio once told me that the entire staff was called in for an emergency meeting to re-evaluate the transfer of a popular new release because a well-known DVD review website had given it a harsh review and they feared it would affect sales thanks to a backlash from the fans.  In the end the title wasn’t pulled, but the powers-that-be took the comment seriously enough to warrant considering it which would have cost them a significant amount to pull off the shelves and fix. 

Bill Hunt discusses all things Blu-ray & DVD at the Digital Bits Producer's Panel

There are a lot of fans who are excited about catalog content releases and are happy just to see the titles that they love be released without the rampant negativity.  However, as the contact line between the consumer and the content providers continues to erode thanks to social media, it will be interesting to watch just how or if future releases are affected by the growing number of vocal fans who aren’t afraid to preach their displeasure and demands about content and the way it is delivered.