Fox Castrates Rental DVDs
March 15, 2009

20th Century Fox (and never has that name seemed more appropriate) is planning to create stripped-down rental versions of their DVDs. If you want to view the special features, deleted scenes, commentaries, and so on, you have to buy the retail version. Rental outlets will only be allowed to buy from wholesalers the versions with the movie and trailers (because they don’t want to lose the cross-promotion).

Now, this ignores that rental stores, if they want to, can source their DVDs from elsewhere, but I don’t know if they’ll want to go to the trouble or spend the extra money. And I’m not sure many renters actually care. (Watching a DVD with my parents two weeks ago, it was the first time they’d ever looked at the special features on the discs they get from Netflix, a subscription they’ve had for over a year.)

Still, it shows how backwards they’ve got things. If customers aren’t doing what you want them to, the smart thing would be to make your product more attractive. This takes the opposite approach, cutting out features that customers used to get in an attempt to force customers into behavior against the buyer’s best interests. (There are many many films maybe worth watching once, without having to own them. Especially now that standard list is $30 a movie.)

Plus, there’s the question of how this will affect the used DVD market, an outcome I take personal interest in. I have too many DVDs. I rarely have time to watch one more than once — there’s always a new one on the shelf instead — but if I can get the disc for $5-6, I still buy it, if it’s got extras. That’s cheaper than my husband and I going to the movies; I enjoy the behind-the-scenes information; and at that price, if I don’t like it, I have a reasonable chance of making a significant portion of my money back selling it.

Rental discs often feed the used market. Once a movie’s no longer hot or in demand, stores sell off the stock, and it’s a good deal for everyone. Except the studios, who think they’re owed 5 times as much as I’m willing to pay for even mediocre films.

Then there’s the problem of trying to explain all this to customers. They’re going to blame the messengers: their rental outlets, who have the problem of trying to clarify a complicated approach (the extras vary based on rental DVD, retail DVD, rental Blu-ray, or retail Blu-ray) that they don’t even agree with.

The first two titles released under this strategy will be Slumdog Millionaire and Marley and Me. Says the Video Buyers Group president,

The main thing is that studios have to add value to get customers to buy, and they aren’t buying. Numbers have been falling through the floor.

But they’re not adding value. They’re taking away value. As for declining sales, could it be the quality of the movies themselves? The rising prices? Too much material to choose from? An economy that means cutting out extras? People slowing their purchase rate as they’ve rebought everything they wanted and realizing they have plenty to watch already? No, it must be everyone renting instead of buying.

Drop the prices back down to impulse level and see what happens. Stop trying to force consumers to behave as you think they should. That sense of entitlement just leads to resentment and encourages the behavior you want to stop.

18 Responses  
Dwight Williams writes:  

Fair concerns, one and all.

Now we wait for the Big Four to rebel catastrophically against your advice.

Robert Frost writes:  

Sounds like a good and fair idea, to me. The purchasing customer deserves some perks over the rental customer.

Also, considering that more and more often DVDs are released as 1 disk and 2 disk versions, with extra features on disk 2, it’s reasonable that the cheaper 1 disk version would be the one purchased by the rental chain. In fact, as far as I know, Netflix treats each disk as an additional rental, so unless you ask for disk 2, you’re only getting the movie disk, anyway.

Johanna writes:  

Why does the purchaser deserve “perks”? If I check out a book from the library, by your logic, should I only get the text without table of contents, index, or afterword?

I had no idea Netflix worked multi-discs that way, though. Interesting. Figuring out demand for purchasing for a rental chain has got to be a nightmare.

Tim Rifenburg writes:  

Like many I don’t buy new DVD’s anymore unless if it is something I know I will watch multiple times. Cost became a big factor. I got burned too many times with movies I was wanting to see and then being highly disappointed. Extras did help in the decision of buying but many times I didn’t watch them or the novelty of them wore off. I have in the past year or so stuck to buying used rentals from the video chains when they are trying to unload rentals. When I can get the 3 or 4 for 20 deal I stock up. Besides blockbusters or known, many times I pick movies I wouldn’t normally watch or take a chance on something. (The Jane Austen Book Club is a good example of that. I hadn’t heard of it but liked some of the leads. At 5 bucks it was worth a shot)
Sometimes I get burned (Hellboy was 2 hours of my life I lost) but then I just pass those dics on. If I was only getting the movie I probably would stil buy the used discs because that was all i wanted fr the most part. I can understand why others would be bummed.

Johanna writes:  

On a tangent: what’s the best source online to find out what extras are on which DVDs? Amazon has quit listing them. (I also liked JABC. Better than many other chick flicks.)

Robotech_Master writes:  

One could argue that renters are less likely to have the time with the disc to go through all the extras anyway. This kind of reminds me of the old DIVX strategy…DIVX was meant to replace rentals and was much more bare-bones than DVD. Certainly it will disappoint people who rent DVDs to burn copies!

Lyle writes:  

Shouldn’t the “perk” of purchasing the DVD be that you own it?

I don’t see how this will help entice people to buy the DVD or make the rental less appealing. If you want to watch the movie before buying it and you didn’t like the movie, what kind of incentive would the bonus features be? And if you think you’ll only want to watch the movie once, it’d take a lot for the extras to be worth the cost of purchase.

I like the extras but sometimes the movie studios treat them like comics with variant covers. In the short term, I’m sure that resulted in double or triple purchases of movies but for me that means I’ll pass on a DVD if the extras I want aren’t there.

Johanna writes:  

Good point, Lyle. I know I’ve waited to buy certain movies because I suspect that a 2-disc special edition will be coming later. (Superhero movies used to be particularly bad at this.) Plus, prices drop almost in half after a few years, with or without extras.

Jamie Coville writes:  

Yes, I think what they’re trying to prevent is people renting and copying the DVDs, instead of buying them.

Online you can find the movies, but they are typically 700+ meg AVI files without the ads, menus and extras.

This will just create a demand for full versions online and I’m sure you’ll see them on Pirate Bay before 2010.

ADD writes:  

Rental video is already dead, as a visit to any remaining video rentals will pretty quickly demonstrate. I don’t know anyone at all who still rents physical movies, and I’d guess the end result of this movie will be the shuttering of video stores nationwide within a year of it going into effect.

David Wynne writes:  

Stop trying to force consumers to behave as you think they should. That sense of entitlement just leads to resentment and encourages the behavior you want to stop.

Gosh, that sounds awfully familiar. Almost as if it could just as easily be directed at companies in a certain *other* industry we’re all interested in…

Alan, physical DVD rental is alive and well and pretty big business in the UK- it’s just that it happens via post now. Blockbuster is indeed all but dead here now.

James Schee writes:  

Huh, doesn’t effect me that much as I have a hard time remembering when an extra on a DVD was worth it.

Johanna writes:  

My favorites are those that say something significant about a film. Like on the remake of The Women, they do a short piece comparing the two films. Or Hollywoodland, which I’m watching right now, they talk about the actual history.

Caanan writes:  

Maybe DVD rentals are falling for some people because they don’t want to make the jump to Blu Ray and they don’t want to keep buying the current format which could very well be obsolete in 5 years? I dunno. I always figured DVD was pretty good. Why change?

I used to live near an alternative DVD rental place. They were ALWAYS busy because they got stuff that was hard to find. The big chains, though, I’ve seen shutting up shop all over the place.

Thom writes:  

Sure. But video cassettes were pretty good, and so were audio cassette tapes. Why switch to CD and DVD? Yet, people found reasons. :)

David Oakes writes:  

CD and DVD weren’t worth switching to until you could record. Audiophiles may tout the superior quality, but the masses want function.

Blu-ray is also touted as technologically superior. But it doesn’t improve that much on the day to day uses. And with iPods and Tivos, the idea of tangible media has been skipped over entirely. Who cares about picture quality when you are only watching it on something the size of a postage stamp?

Thom writes:  

I’ve never understood why people would want to watch a movie on their iPod…I mean, I have some (mainly because some blu-ray I bought had a digital copy). And I find I would rather just listen to music on my iPod. :)

As a special features buff, I do not care for the decision of Fox, as I do rent movies I am unsure about, and even on movies do not like? I will often check out special features. For Fox to demand that I purchase the movie to check out the special features is quite frustrating. I wonder if this applies their Blu-Ray releases? Blu-Ray’s interactivity strikes me as a problem for creating multiple versions. But maybe it’s simpler than I think.

JD writes:  

This kind of thing has been commonplace in France for years : in many cases, you’ll only get a stripped-down version with just trailers (if you’re lucky).

And you’ll never get a Director’s Cut, of course.

I first noticed this in… 2002 ? I’m surprised it’s news in the US.


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