The Golden Age of Hollywood

Warner Bros. Brings Film Vault Into Digital Age

Warner Bros. brings film vault into digital age
By RYAN NAKASHIMA – 2 hours ago

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Warner Bros. is reaching into its film vaults so it can sell old movies on made-to-order DVDs, in a move it hopes will goose sales of a vital product in a downturn.

Starting Monday, the studio will sell copies of 150 films from the silent era to the 1980s Brat Pack that have never been released on DVD. Internet downloads of the movies will cost $14.95, while DVDs sent in the mail are $19.95. Both can be ordered at http://www.warnerarchive.com.

The initiative, which Warner claims is the first of its kind for a major studio, is an effort by the Time Warner Inc. subsidiary to combat what could be a fundamental decline in demand for DVD purchases — a falloff that can be blamed on market saturation as much as the recession.

Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger warned of this shift last month when he noted that most U.S. households own 80 DVDs already, leading people to become "more selective" about what discs they buy.

U.S. DVD spending fell 7 percent last year, to $21.6 billion, according to The Digital Entertainment Group, an industry consortium. While high-definition Blu-ray disc spending nearly tripled, it represented a small slice of the market, at $750 million.

Now retailers are cutting back shelf space for DVDs. And digital downloads have come nowhere near to making up the difference, said Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research, who doesn't predict overall growth in home video until 2010.

Home video revenues are a key profit driver for the studios — in some cases, accounting for 60 percent more money than what a studio collects at the box office. So the recent decline has forced studios to do everything from lay off staff to pare back 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 said. By making the DVDs only when the movies are ordered by a customer, Warner doesn't have to worry about filling up a warehouse with inventory that struggles to sell.

Many of the titles Warner is releasing in the new venture have made the rounds on another Time Warner subsidiary, the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, and on VHS. But the studio will keep mining a 6,800-feature film library, amassed when Ted Turner bought Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's archive in 1986, which in turn was bought by Time Warner a decade later.

Twenty more films or TV shows will be added to the program of re-releases each month, with 300 expected by year's end. To put it in perspective, the studio has released only about 1,100 movies on DVD since the technology was spawned 12 years ago.

"There are still thousands of movies that we own that consumers haven't been able to get," said George Feltenstein, senior vice president of theatrical catalog marketing for Warner Home Video. "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 "The Mating Game" (1959), starring Debbie Reynolds, and a string of Cary Grant flicks from "Mr. Lucky" (1943) to "Once Upon a Honeymoon" (1942). There's also "Wisdom," a modern-day Robin Hood tale from 1986 starring Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore.

Reynolds noted that in the past, the only way to watch some old films was to have a projector at home and obtain a bootleg copy. She said fans have been asking her to get some of her films on DVD, like "The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady" (1950), 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," said Reynolds, 76, during an interview in a screening room on the Warner lot. "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 auto worker in Saginaw, Mich., expects to use the new Warner program to add to his 5,000-disc collection, a mix of Blu-ray discs and DVDs.

He bubbled at hearing of upcoming releases such as "Beast of the City" (1932) starring Walter Huston and Jean Harlow, or "Rasputin and the Empress" (1932), which features three Barrymore siblings, including modern "Charlie's Angels" actress Drew Barrymore's grandfather, John.

"Some of these films I've been waiting on for years," said Crawford. "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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Comment by The Giant on March 29, 2009 at 4:07pm
This was kind of my notion for for quite awhile now. I have long been asking around here why they don't sell some rare titles exclusively on TCM website? Why set up another link? When they announced the RKO Pre-Codes Lost And Found titles, I was hoping that some Silents might quickly follow. However, THE TEMPTRESS? That's already been released before? Maybe they actually meant to put out THE TORRENT? I love THE SINGLE STANDARD., but I doubt that it has been re-mastered, and it could use a little work.

There are some good titles in the batch. I am particularly interested in THE TRAIL OF '98, as my copy is from clear back in 2000, and not the best recording. To bad that TIDE OF THE EMPIRE, and THE VIKING are not among the group. Also CAPTAIN SALVATION and THE PAGAN. The William Haines titles that are missing are WEST POINT, and SPEEDWAY. I 'm not counting BROWN OF HARVARD, or SLIDE KELLY SLIDE, as I don't think TCM has aired those two titles yet? Have they? There are two Marion Davies films in these bunch, incl;uding the hilarious Silent THE RED MILL.

Maybe they intend to give OLD HEIDELBERG, THE PATSY, and SHOW PEOPLE official release? Same with A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS, since those titles are not on this list at all? Neither is TELL IT TO THE MARINES, or THE BLACKBIRD, among others. we do know that THE BIG PARADE is in the works but how soon will it be ready? I was promised something for this year last Summer. If you read what is really said there is no indication that the project has actually started? The comment says they are in "discussions with Kevin Brownlow's Photoplay Productions, it does not say that they are actually actively working on this? I'm I correct? What is taking so long?

It's interesting that there are no true Warner Brother's or First National Silents being offered? Not even DON JUAN, THE BETTER OLE' or NOAH'S ARK? Hope those are planned.
Comment by Classic Movie Man on March 24, 2009 at 4:08am
Got mixed feelings on this. On the one hand its great that many films will be available in some form that would never make it to DVD any other way. Warner have also said that that despite intially being made available just to US residents these will soon be available to anyone worldwide or at least those titles they own the worldwide rights to.

On the negative side these aren't proper DVDs but burned discs though they say the quality will be as good as a proper commercial release. Warner are also saying this won't affect regular DVD releases of classics but with so many titles getting released this way I doubt it won't. Maybe we're just past the golden period of DVD releases of classics when they did a boxset or two every month. At least the really big silents and Jean Harlow etc look like they will get proper releases according to the chat though Harlow is postponed till 2011.

Looking at the first set of titles I'd say none of these are absolutely essential films or great classics though some are very good with big stars. I see most of the remaining Garbo silents, a few other silent films, quite a few Gable-Crawfords, Gable-Turners etc. Two films I have very fond memories off : Too Hot To Handle (1938) with Gable and Myrna Loy and Edison the Man (1940) with Spencer Tracy.

From this proper releases of another Gable and Crawford boxset look less likely also from the chat further Cagney and Robinson titles look like they will also be just from the Archive. Kinda good and bad at the same time. Whatever this appears to have been a big success so far with many orders. Warner are trying to have it both ways with some titles too : if they get enough buyers will some of these films get a wider release ? I can't think of anything more annoying than buying a burned disc for $19.95 then a proper release a few months down the line.
Comment by Christopher on March 23, 2009 at 3:07pm
I'd be interested to see those 50s-60s gangster films like Al Capone,The George Raft Story,King of the Roaring Twenties..hadn't seen those since school boy days...This was brought to my attention over the weekend in relation to El Condor getting a dvd release...
Comment by M.T. Fisher on March 23, 2009 at 10:14am
Man! They're releasing some stinkeroos (Lepke?)
Comment by Michael B. Druxman on March 23, 2009 at 9:59am
Looked at the initial list. Hopefully, in the near future, they'll add THE OKLAHOMA KID, THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE, THE SEA WOLF, A LION IS IN THE STREETS, DEVIL'S DOORWAY, THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE, PARTY GIRL and THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR.
Comment by Ktrek on March 23, 2009 at 8:46am
I was going to post a link about this over the weekend but did not have time. Thanks for the post and here is the link:

http://www.wbshop.com/Warner-Archive/ARCHIVE,default,sc.html

Kevin

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