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Warner Bros. To Release Older, Classic Titles On DVD

March 23, 2009

Beginning Monday, Warner Brothers will begin selling some of its old movie titles on made-to-order DVDs, including some 150 films from the silent-era to the 1980s that have never before been released on DVD.

The films can be purchased at www.warnerarchive.com, where an Internet download sells for $14.95 and a traditional DVD sent in the mail sells for $19.95.

The initiative, which the company claims is the first of its kind for a major studio, is an effort to boost sales amid a fundamental decline in DVD demand driven by market saturation and a global economic downturn. 

Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger warned of these conditions last month, saying that most U.S. households currently own about 80 DVDs, leading many people to be “more selective” about which DVDs they purchase.

Figures from the industry consortium Digital Entertainment Group show that U.S. DVD spending fell to $21.6 billion last year, a 7 percent decline from the previous year.  And while high-definition Blu-ray disc spending nearly tripled to $750 million, it represented only a small part of the overall market.

As retailers reduce shelf space for DVDs, digital downloads are nowhere near compensating for the difference, according to Adams Media Research president Tom Adams, who doesn’t see an overall growth in the home video market until 2010.

Revenue from the sale of home video products are a significant profit driver for movie studios, at times generating 60 percent or more money than what a studio makes at the box office.

The recent decline has forced some studios to make various cost reduction measures, such as laying off workers and scaling back on their movie making.

Warner’s decision to open up its vault “sounds like it’s a risk-free way for them to generate a little money on some very old content,” Adams told the Associated Press.

Indeed, by making a DVD only after a customer has ordered one, Warner will not have to incur the costs of storing inventory in a warehouse until the products sell.

Many of the films Warner is releasing with the new initiative have made the rounds on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, another Time Warner subsidiary, and on VHS.   However, the studio will keep reviewing its 6,800-feature film library, obtained when Ted Turner acquired Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s archive in 1986, which was ultimately bought by Time Warner ten years later.

Warner will add twenty more films or TV shows to the program of re-releases each month, with 300 expected by the end of the year.  By comparison, the studio has released roughly 1,100 movies on DVD since the technology became widely available some 12 years ago.

“There are still thousands of movies that we own that consumers haven’t been able to get,” George Feltenstein, Warner Home Video’s senior vice president of theatrical catalog marketing, told the Associated Press.

“I expect that we’ll be selling thousands of copies of every title over a period of time, and making a lot of people really happy.”

Titles include a series of Cary Grant films from “Mr. Lucky” (1943) to “Once Upon a Honeymoon” (1942), along with the “The Mating Game” (1959), starring Debbie Reynolds.  There’s also the 1986 film  “Wisdom,” starring Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore.

In the past, the only way to view some old films was with a projector and a bootleg copy, said Reynolds.  She said fans have been requesting some of her films on DVD, such as the 1950 movie “The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady”, which is expected in a later batch of releases.

“I was a girl that was raised with radio and I had to go to the theater to see movies,” Reynolds said during an interview with the Associated Press.

“Now you get to see everything at home on a DVD. It just seems like a miracle that it can be done this way.”

Robert Crawford, a 53-year-old autoworker in Saginaw, Mich., expects to add some of Warner’s newly-available films to his 5,000-disc collection, and delighted about such upcoming releases as  “Beast of the City” (1932) starring Jean Harlow and Walter Huston, and “Rasputin and the Empress” (1932), which stars three Barrymore siblings, including the grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore.

“Some of these films I’ve been waiting on for years,” Crawford told the AP.

“Let’s face it, Best Buy doesn’t carry every title, neither does Wal-Mart. They don’t have the shelf room.”

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