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February 25, 2012

Films on the Web: Good News ?

by Howard Suber

When home video tape came along, a guy from Dearborn, Michigan had a bright idea: Why not license the rights to major Hollywood films and sell or rent them to home consumers?

The studios thought this guy was loco, but he offered them something like twenty-five thousand dollars for a package of top films he had cherry-picked, and, starting with 20th Century-Fox, one-by-one several other studios signed up. They soon realized they were giving away the store, and ceased being so generous.

Later, Bob Stein, a guy with very little money who lived near UCLA, had a bright idea: Why not license the rights to some of the biggest American classics, insist on access to the negatives to provide the best transfers publicly available, and put “additional material” on the multiple sound tracks on the newly-invented “laserdiscs”? He started a company called Criterion and acquired many of the biggest films for a license fee of around $10,000.

I know this story because I was one of the first people Criterion signed a contract with to provide simultaneous film analysis for films such as The Graduate, High Noon, Some Like It Hot (and 2001 and Dr. Strangelove until Mr. Kubrick refused to allow access). You won’t find my versions of these films on current DVDs because Criterion hadn’t foreseen that another medium would supplant laserdiscs, and by the time that happened, the studios were not being generous at all.

My point is this: Historically, the studios have been very bad at foreseeing where their markets are going. I don’t know that their track record is worse than other businesses – I suspect this statement is true for any large-scale organization intent on preserving what it has.

There’s an interesting article linked below in today’s New York Times, titled, “Web Deals Cheer Hollywood, Despite Drop in Moviegoers.” It’s clear the gold rush is on to get a piece of the Web Pie. How big a piece, and whether it cannibalizes Hollywood’s existing market remains to be seen.

Copyright (c) 2012 Howard Suber

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