DVD format war begins with arrival of Blu-ray discs, player

June 21, 2006
GARY GENTILE
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – The DVD format war has begun.

On Tuesday, Sony Pictures released the first seven films in the new Blu-ray format, which is backed primarily by Sony Corp. and a majority of Hollywood studios, including Disney, MGM and Twentieth Century Fox.

The releases, which include "50 First Dates," "Hitch," and "House of Flying Daggers," will play on the new Blu-ray DVD player from Samsung Electronics, which goes on sale next week for $999.

Blu-ray arrives a few months late to the game.

The first shots in the battle over high definition DVDs came in March when Toshiba Corp. began selling a $499 player for their rival – and incompatible – HD DVD format.

Toshiba is a major developer and backer of the format. Like Blu-ray, the HD DVD format promises crisper pictures, better sound and more disc space to accommodate interactive menus, games and other features.

While the HD DVD camp has fewer Hollywood studios, the format's backers include companies with vast film and TV libraries such as Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures.

Those studios have already begun releasing most new home videos, including "The Last Samurai" and "Cinderella Man," in HD DVD.

Both sides had hoped to avoid a prolonged battle for dominance, which analysts say will cause confusion in the marketplace and delay quick adoption of the higher quality video format. But talks to devise a compromise between the two camps broke down last year.

Sony has made Blu-ray a cornerstone of its strategy to turn its Playstation 3 video game console into a networked home entertainment center. The consoles will come equipped with a Blu-ray disc player when they go on sale in November.

Microsoft Corp., which backs the HD DVD format, plans on making a high-def disc drive available for its XBox 360 game console later this year.
Sony Connect

Web merchants drop dogfighting DVD

June 21, 2006

By MICHAEL LIEDTKE
AP BUSINESS WRITERSAN FRANCISCO — A DVD featuring violent pit bull fights has unleashed protests against the distributor as well as several online merchants that had been peddling the video, which may break federal laws against animal cruelty.

In response to Tuesday inquiries by The Associated Press, Amazon.com Inc., Circuit City Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co. Inc. said they would pull the video, "Hood Fights, Vol. 2, The Art of The Pit" from their Web sites as soon as possible.

As of late Tuesday, the DVD was still being sold on online auctioneer eBay Inc.

Hood Fights 2 also contains scenes of men brawling, but the pit bull sequences have provoked the loudest outcry so far.

The Humane Society of United States has asked U.S. Attorney Roger Roper III in Dallas to investigate whether Hood Fights 2 violates a federal law against interstate or foreign commerce profiting from the depiction of animal cruelty. The DVD was released in April by a Texas-based Web site, streetheatdvd.com

Hood Fights 2 "shows a series of staged matches in which trained fighting dogs suffer bloody, debilitating injuries for the apparent amusement of spectators," wrote the Humane Society's Ann Chynoweth wrote in a June 13 letter to Roper.
Chynoweth, director of the Humane Society's animal cruelty and fighting campaign, provided the AP with a copy of the letter Tuesday.Kathy Colvin, a spokeswoman for Roper, declined to say whether the U.S. attorney had opened an investigation.

Internet records list streetheatdvd.com's owner as 50/50 Entertainment and Glenn Hudson. Efforts to reach Hudson for comment were unsuccessful.

The Humane Society also sent letters of protest to Amazon.com, Best Buy, Circuit City and Netflix Inc., which runs the Web's largest rental service.

Los Gatos, Calif.-based Netflix removed Hood Fights from its library during the past week after customer complaints prompted a review of the objectionable content, said company spokesman Steve Swasey.

"We treated it like we would pornography," Swasey said. Netflix doesn't rent pornography to its nearly 5 million subscribers.

Until the AP's inquiry, Amazon.com's Web site had indicated it planned to reorder more copies of Hood Fight 2.

Amazon.com spokeswoman Patty Smith said the listings for Hood Fights 2 were supplied by three different distributors.

Circuit City spokesman Jim Babb said the Richmond, Va.-based retailer wasn't aware Hood Fights 2 contained pit bull fights until the AP's inquiry. "When you have more than 300,000 items listed (on the Web site), it's hard to monitor everything," said Babb, who emphasized Hood Fights was never sold in Circuit City's brick-and-mortar stores.

Minneapolis-based Best Buy decided late Tuesday that it was inappropriate to continue selling Hood Fights 2. "We share in the concerns about issues related to violence against animals," said company spokesman Jay Musolf.

Ebay spokesman Hani Durzy said the auction site planned to review Hood Fights 2 and will pull the listing if the company believes the video breaks any laws.
Netflix, Inc.

New sites let you swap CDs, movies

June 21, 2006

Gigli gathering dust? Have the kids outgrown Digimon: The Movie? Embarrassed that somehow Howard the Duck found its way into your DVD collection?

A crop of Web sites launched in the past year allows you to swap those DVDs and CDs you don't want for the ones you do. On most sites, movies, games and music can be traded for as little as $1 and the cost of shipping fees. There is no monthly membership fee. Among some of the newer sites: switchdiscs.com, zunafish.com, peerflix.com and barterbee.com.

Unlike online movie rental services such as Netflix, the online swap meets allow participants to own the movies.

They can keep it or watch it a handful of times and place it back on the trade list. The sites promise a cheaper and more straightforward listing process than eBay.

Site founders also say swapping sites offer the customer a better deal than places like Blockbuster Inc. or GameStop, where a customer must sell four or five CDs, DVDs or games to buy one of equivalent value.

"It's not a good deal for the customer. It's an outdated model," said Love Goel, Internet retail expert and investor in the online trading site barterbee.com.

Most sites charge a flat transaction fee of $1, but instead of receiving cash for a movie or CD, members collect points that can be used to buy other movies or CDs from fellow members. Some sites allow people to swap between categories, such as a video game for a movie. Others allow trades only in the same category. A few of the Web sites offer prepaid envelopes for users to mail their media. Unlike eBay, there is no auction, which can make the trading easier and faster.

Ron Alvey, 36, of Fresno, Calif., said after using switchdiscs.com for a month and half, he doesn't foresee making weekly trips to the video rental store or buying many more movies at places like Wal-Mart.

The price is right, he said. In the past six weeks, he bought one new movie for $10 to boost his trading power and spent another $10 in postage but received – to keep forever if wanted – 15 movies.

He also unloaded Spy Kids and Spy Kids 3-D, which his children no longer watch.

"What I like the most is that I don't have to go anywhere," said Alvey, a commercial driver. "I work 55 hours a week, and that's the last thing I want to do. I look forward to opening my mailbox."

Phoenix resident Steven Mayes, 19, has sampled or had memberships at some of the surviving, older, online trading sites for the past five years and says they can offer both incredible value and risk.

He has picked up cherished video games and DVDs for next to nothing but also sent off a DVD on a trade and never received a DVD in return.

"With sites like eBay, you have a chance to get your money back if that happens, but on other sites, I have been ripped off," he said.

He advises people to post a message on the trading site's forum or chat room asking people to vouch for the trustworthiness of a particular trader.

"And also, you know, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is," he said.

Although the number of digital downloads of music and DVDs are growing, online trading players don't believe it will undercut the trading market anytime soon.

"Technology has a long way to go before everybody is adapting to that," said Chris Samarin, founder of switchdiscs.com, which launched in February.if(ScriptsLoaded) stInit();

SecondSpin.com

V For Vendetta announced for DVD

May 18, 2006

Warner Home Video is planning to offer a pair of DVD options when "V For Vendetta" hits stores August 1. You'll be able to choose between a single-disc bare bones edition or a loaded two-disc special edition with an undetermined number of extra features. No sign of a day-and-date HD-DVD or Blu-ray release which is odd given V's timing and targeted audience (i.e. us).

The standard edition will carry a MAP of $19.95 and the special edition $22.95.

Courtesy of http://dvd.themanroom.com

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Union involved in illegal DVD rental

May 18, 2006

The Oxford Union has been illegally lending DVDs intended for private use. The Oxford Student has discovered that the library contained a significant number of DVDs which were not intended for rental. Some clearly display a ‘not for rental’ sign on the cover. Union President David Powell admitted that they had been lending DVDs illegally but that the Union committee were unaware that the discs were for retail purposes only.

He said, “I’m not saying we haven’t broken the law as I don’t know where the responsibility for checking the discs lies. “Every time we placed an order we made it clear that we only wanted DVDs that were for rental purposes. We wrote that on every order form and emphasized it at every opportunity. We had the DVDs in good faith, but it seems they were supplied to us in error.

Powell claimed that Su Lockley, the library’s permanent librarian, had only found five copies which infringed the law. Lockley said that it had always been the Union’s policy to purchase rental copies. She told The Oxford Student, “We always buy them from a distributor as you have to stay within the rental law.” The Union library was introduced a year ago under the authority of librarian Vladimir Bermant. It charges members £1.50 per DVD for a three-day loan.

It also charges a daily £1 fine for late returns. A spokeswoman from the British Video Association confirmed that the Union were in breach of the 1988 Copyright Design and Patents Act. She said, “If it is true that the private members’ club did not buy these DVDs from a licensed distributor then it is absolutely breach of copyright law.” She added that the law was created to protect the film industry.

“Charging members for the hire of non-rental companies means that their profits will go straight into their pockets, rather than into developing new talent in the field.” Over a year, the library collection has grown from 100 DVDs to around 500. DVD libraries have also been set up in many college JCRs across the University, providing their members with rentals. The British Video Association said that these DVD rentals are within the law as they are not for profit.

Unlike JCR DVD libraries, the 10 to 20 discs added each week to the Union collection are financed by Union members through a system of loans and fines. Powell said that the Union has removed from the Library the small number of DVDs which contravene copyright legislation. He said, “The union is always very careful to stay within the law.

Courtesy of http://www.oxfordstudent.com by Zoe McCallum
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Warner Bros. to Sell Movies and TV Shows on Internet

May 13, 2006

Warner Brothers plans to announce today that it will make hundreds of movies and television shows available for purchase over the Internet using BitTorrent software, which is widely used to download movies and other copyrighted material illegally.

The agreement between Warner Brothers and BitTorrent is an unusual deal between a major Hollywood studio and a company whose file-sharing technology has raised the ire of the movie industry.

For its part, Warner Brothers says it is trying to stem the piracy of movies on the Internet by offering consumers an easy and fast way to download movies legally.

"We've been struggling with peer-to-peer technology and trying to figure out a way to harness the good in all that the technology allows us to do," said Kevin Tsujihara, the president of Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group.

"If we can convert 5, 10 or 15 percent of the illegal downloaders into consumers of our product, that is significant."

A spokeswoman for Warner Brothers declined to disclose terms of the deal.

The service will begin sometime this summer, with prices beginning at about $1 for some television programs and increasing to about the price of a DVD or video rental for full-length movies.

The initial offerings will include movies like "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," "Rumor Has It" and "Natural Born Killers." The television shows will include older fare like "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Babylon 5."

To use the service, consumers will visit www.bittorrent.com, download the software and then browse the selections on the Web site. They will be prevented from copying and distributing files they purchase through two mechanisms: one that requires them to enter a password before watching a file, and another that allows the file to be viewed only on the computer to which it was downloaded.

Online piracy has become increasingly vexing for Hollywood studio executives as faster Internet connections have made it easier to copy large movie files. A study commissioned by the Motion Picture Association of America concluded that piracy cost the studios about $2.3 billion in revenue in 2005.

BitTorrent, which is widely used by college students and other tech-savvy people, has legitimate uses, offering a way for creators of video documentaries or of open-source software to share their work easily and cheaply. But it is best known as a tool for illegal downloading.

For example, at any given moment in the week ended May 2, an average of 47,069 people were in the process of downloading the movie "The Chronicles of Narnia" using BitTorrent, according to BigChampagne Media Measurement, an online market research firm in Beverly Hills, Calif. "Scary Movie 4," which hit theaters just last month, was being downloaded by an average of 37,287 people in that week.

"There's a significant amount of peer-to-peer usage, which takes place because not many online options exist," said Ashwin Navin, president and co-founder of BitTorrent.

Bram Cohen, the 30-year-old founder and chief executive of BitTorrent, first created the technology in 2001 as a way of addressing two of the biggest problems with file sharing: slow downloads and selfishness.

The BitTorrent software overcame both problems by slicing digital media into pieces. With BitTorrent, once users have successfully acquired any one piece of the song, movie, game or other media they are grabbing, they also begin feeding that piece to other BitTorrent users seeking the same file — whether they like it or not — even if their own copy is not fully downloaded.

So, everyone downloading a file is simultaneously contributing to its distribution, making it impossible to "leech," or take without also giving.

This also proved to be an good way to share large files, because bits of a file could be retrieved from many sources — and the more computers actively chasing a file, the faster each individual user's download of that file became.

Mr. Cohen turned his software into a company in 2004 and has been seeking deals like the one with Warner Brothers. Last November the company announced an agreement with the M.P.A.A. under which it pledged to make it harder for users to find illegitimate downloads through its search engine.

Warner Brothers, a unit of Time Warner, chose BitTorrent because its technology is "elegantly and efficiently designed for the delivery of large files like TV programs and films," Mr. Tsujihara said.

As a side benefit, the arrangement allows the studio to share the burden of distributing its movies with the people who are watching them, saving money on Internet bandwidth.

A Warner Brothers agreement with BitTorrent offers further evidence that even if illegal downloads of movies are not going away, the studios are trying to get ahead of the many millions of people who have not yet tried the piracy route.

Last month, six major Hollywood studios introduced Movielink, an Internet service that allows buying and downloading movies from a central server. Another Web site, CinemaNow, sells downloadable movies from Lions Gate, Sony and MGM.

Eric Garland, the chief executive of BigChampagne, said Hollywood was trying to get ahead of consumer demand in a way that the music industry, which battled Napster for years, did not.

"Hollywood could find itself in the position that the music industry is in," Mr. Garland said. "It's much easier to win an online marketplace than to win back an online marketplace that's lost."
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DVDs On The Run to franchise

May 13, 2006

DVDs On The Run founder plans to franchise his fledgling business Date published: 5/11/2006

By CATHY JETT

Cris Pollnow was blown away the first time he used DVDs On The Run on State Route 3.

All he had to do to rent a video game or movie was pull up to a drive-through bay, make a selection from a touch screen and swipe his credit card. His selection would drop down a chute.

"I met Richard [Nehrboss, who created the concept] there, and I said, 'You've got to franchise this, and I want the first one,'" Pollnow said.

Now the Chancellorsville businessman is getting his wish. He plans to build a DVDs On The Run in Rappahannock Industrial Park on Tidewater Trail once Spotsylvania County approves his site plan and building permit.

"I would like to get it open within about 90 days," he said.

Pollnow's franchise will be among at least three new DVDs On The Run going up in the Fredericksburg area soon. Nehrboss, who built the prototype next to the Wawa at Chewning Lane and Route 3 last May, is going through a similar permitting process to build his drive-through DVD stores across from the Rob's Car Wash in Fredericksburg's Central Park and on U.S. 17 near Falls Run in Stafford County.

These will be company stores. He also had a meeting recently with people who, like Pollnow, want to buy DVDs On The Run franchises for $166,000 to $228,000. The price includes the cost of the building, which may vary depending on the site.

"Interest was very high," Nehrboss said. "I'll probably only let five of them go. If they want more, they'll have to wait for the next round of offerings" later this year.

Nehrboss is the second Fredericksburg-area businessman to franchise a concept this year. The other is Rick Ivey, a Spotsylvania chef who started the Virginia Barbecue restaurant chain in 2000. There are now six Virginia Barbecues, and two more will open this July, in The Shops at Ladysmith and Davis Ford Crossing in Manassas.

"People generally franchise their businesses because they recognize franchises are an effective way to expand a business into new markets and do so fairly rapidly with a relative minimum of expense," said Matthew R. Shay, International Franchise Association president.

"You're licensing the right to use your intellectual property to another entrepreneur, who is responsible for putting up the capital investment and serving as the day-to-day manager," he said. "In a corporation, if you were managing it all yourself, you'd have to put up the capital and hire and train staff."

Nehrboss said he decided to franchise DVDs On The Run after talking to about 1,000 people who used the prototype store soon after it opened. Some, like Pollnow, were intrigued with the idea of owning an automated business requiring only a few hours of labor a week to restock it with new DVDs.

"We have a whole range of people who are interested, from people who want to keep their day job to those who are retiring but still want to do something," he said. "Most of them are really attracted by the fact that they don't have to hire employees."

Nehrboss and his wife, Ruth, came up with the idea for DVDs On The Run while discussing ways automation could boost a business's bottom line. They first considered automating a drive-up espresso stand, but decided applying that approach to the movie rental business made more sense.

There would be no health regulations to follow, for starters. And the profit margin would be higher than that of such competitors as Blockbuster, because operating expenses would be lower.

The result was DVDs On The Run, which has four drive-through bays equipped with touch-screen computers and credit-card slots. Customers can either order online ahead of time at DVDsOnTheRun.com or from computer screens on-site. A mechanical arm uses radio-frequency identification chips to find the correct DVDs and drop them down a chute.

"The response we got after we opened was kind of overwhelming," said Nehrboss, who spent several hours a day talking to customers for the first few months the prototype store was in operation last year. "People said things like: 'Thank you for opening. Now I don't have to get my kids out of the car.'"

DVDs On The Run had a positive cash flow by the end of the first week, and was a success by the end of January, said Nehrboss. A little over a month later his wife, who is an attorney, began the paperwork to franchise the business.

His timing is good. Video rental kiosks, which have been popular in Europe for some time, are starting to catch on in the United States, said Sean Bersell, spokesman for the Video Software Dealers Association. The Encino, Calif., trade group represents the United States' $24.3 billion home video rental and sales industry.

Redbox, for example, recently signed an agreement to put its kiosks, which feature about 50 new titles, in more than 80 percent of all Giant stores this year. These are likely to include the Giants in Park & Shop shopping center in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania Crossing Shopping Center and on Courthouse Road in Spotsylvania, according to spokesman Jamie Miller.

DVDs On The Run, however, carries about 10,000 movies, and is the only DVD rental company he's heard of with a drive-through component, according to Bersell.

"It sounds like a great concept that should prove to be popular," he said. "The video rental business is a very innovative industry. People are always reinventing the mousetrap and looking for new ways to provide value and convenience to the consumer."

One such reinvention looming on the horizon is video on demand, or VOD, which allows viewers to select and watch video content over a network as part of an interactive television system.

But industry experts predict that technology probably won't affect existing DVD rental companies for about 10 years, said Pollnow. And larger metropolitan areas probably will get the fiber optics needed for VOD before suburban areas such as Fredericksburg.

"Yes, there's an end to this, but there's an end to any business," said Pollnow, who would like to open five DVDs On The Run locations in the next three years. "The payback on this investment has to be short enough so you can absorb that risk. That thing had a positive cash flow in a week. There are not many businesses in the world that can say that."

Courtesy of The free lance star

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Online DVD Rental Firm Seventymm.com Targets $110 Million Revenues By 2010

May 13, 2006

This can be a bit of hyperbole. India’s own Netflix, Bangalore’s Seventymm.com is targeting sales of Rs 500 crore ($111 million) in five years, according to Exchange4media.com. Netflix, the company which pioneered online DVD rental business, has done it. From 239,000 users in the first year of operations in 1999, Netflix has grown to four million subscribers and some 60,000 titles now. The company, which went public in 2002, recorded $682 million in revenues in 2005.
But that is in the US where internet penetration is high, and DVD-ownership is high. India is likely to be a different kettle of fish. Seventymm.com claims it has signed up 3,000 subs in the first month after it kicked off operations. It has 10,000 titles which it plans to swell to 25,000 or so. It plans to have DVDs in regional languages and plans to move into other cities, besides metros. But it remains to be seen how it will generate huge revenues like $100 million-plus.

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