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Saturday, August 08, 2009

What Happens to DVD Extras in the Digital Age?

One interesting phenomenon of the DVD era is how much bonus material is often packed onto the disc: from "making of" documentaries to Q&As at film festivals to director's commentary to fan-generated content. Blu-ray DVDs come with even more goodies.

But one question I've been thinking about lately is: what happens to all this stuff in an era when most people consume movies as digital downloads, sent directly to a PC, mobile phone, or TV?

You'll notice that when you download or rent a movie today from iTunes, Amazon, or Movielink, you're getting the feature only. There's no way to buy, for instance, Robert Rodriguez's fun "Ten Minute Film School" and "Ten Minute Cooking School" videos that have shown up on his DVDs. You can get commentary from Francis Ford Coppola on the Blu-ray release of the "Godfather" trilogy, but not when you download "The Godfather" from Amazon's video-on-demand department.

Here are two scenarios. I'm curious what you think (and perhaps you envision other scenarios):

Scenario #1:

All of these goodies that are today DVD extras eventually become available on the Internet for free. They're used to help market the original theatrical release of the film and get people into theaters, or later to get persuade to purchase or rent the digital version. (Remember, this is a world where DVDs are fading into the sunset.)

Scenario #2:

Some of the goodies become available on the Internet to market the movie in advance of its release. But some expensive-to-produce, in-depth pieces of content (like a great "making of" documentary, or an interview with an ordinarily reclusive director) carry a price tag. For an extra buck on your digital rental (or an extra two bucks on top of the download-to-own price), you might get this bonus material. Or, you might buy it a la carte for a couple bucks after you've seen and enjoyed the movie.

Here are a couple of interesting examples of content that's circulating on the Internet to promote movies, which just a few years ago would've only existed on DVD.

- Maurice Sendak talks with director Spike Jonze about how the book "Where the Wild Things Are" was originally received. Intended to promote Jonze's "Wild Things" feature film, which is coming out this October.

- William H. Macy and Kate Micucci sing "It's Time to Get Laid" (and play ukelele!) to promote the DVD release of the indie comedy "Bart Got a Room."

What do you think? I certainly would like to see filmmakers find a way to earn extra revenue from the extra stuff they produce -- but perhaps it'll be just as valuable as an engine that helps drive ticket or download sales.

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  • The near future to me says that DVD extras will stay only on the DVD as an added incentive to purchase. We're already seeing "rental DVDs" out on the market as a way to not cannibalize the retail sector's sales.

    I don't see much of that changing right away.

    By Blogger Cunningham, at 3:22 PM  

  • As someone who has worked on DVD extras -- the answer is that they are already going away, or at least severely curtailed. Ever since DVDs slowed in sales, budgets have been slashed.

    The amount of money it costs to produce extras that take advantage of Blu-ray's features is too high to justify with the market for Blu-ray being so small. If someone comes up with a consumer-friendly way to download-to-own, Blu-ray will probably never achieve mass adoption.

    I don't think bonus features will ever totally go away. There are film collectors who will make the basic ones -- commentaries, outtakes, deleted scenes, short making-of featurettes -- economically justifiable. And it's easy enough to throw these things in with a digital download to sweeten the deal or, as you say, use them promotionally. I like this trend of releasing commentary while the movie is still in theaters to encourage people to go back and see it a second time.

    What's sad about the curtailing of bonus features is that I learned a ton about filmmaking from the great in-depth bonus features of the last 15 years. The interviews that DVD Bonus producers do with filmmakers are valuable as education for emerging filmmakers, and also as part of film history.

    By Blogger J. Ott, at 3:56 PM  

  • Of course we could see a scenario 3 where the studios adopt a container like MKV that allows you to put whatever you want into the file. Not only could you have extras, but interactive content that drives viewers back to a particular web page if they are watching on a TV or extra director commentary embedding into the actual file.

    By Blogger Davis Freeberg, at 5:40 PM  

  • i think that as fans become involved earlier on in the production of films with sites like & there will be a tendency to release just the final product on DVD as the crowning achievement or reveal to the process. This will also build measurable audience tools and aid in the creation of theatrical release strategies based on crowd input, thus mitigating the risk to the filmmaker and increase revenues to exhibitors who shied away from indies in the past.

    basically the behind the scenes won't appear after the fact but before the fact.

    just my two bits....


    By Blogger David Geertz, at 6:18 PM  

  • As online viewing moves from downloading to streaming, there's no reason that extras couldn't be included in a Sliverlight/Flash/Boxee/Xbox app.

    The economics of streaming may not support their production.

    Perhaps interactive applications that can be designed+built once and monetized over the entire libraries are more in line with the economics. Think Twitter/Facebook/LastFM integration, e-commerce overlays/tie-ins, etc. Mashups are probably cheaper to produce than an accompanying documentary. Additional commentary tracks (including fan-produced) would seem pretty trivial to produce.

    _scott johnson

    By Blogger Unknown, at 7:40 PM  

  • The inclusion of "special features" was originally a marketing strategy to convince early adopters of DVD technology to repurchase movies that they already owned or rented on VHS. The strategy worked, and special features became a part of the DVD retail package. The studios still have an interest in selling DVDs, so thus far they have declined to include special features on digital downloads, a feeble attempt to make the DVD seem like a premium product. As DVD fades, those features will migrate to digital downloads.

    On my digital download store,, we already include all of the special features in the download of a movie. We just zip all the video files together into a single download. Easy. You also get the commentary tracks on a second audio channel, just like a DVD.

    As for studio movies, consumers will get special features in the downloads when the studios start taking digital retail seriously.

    By Blogger H. Hancock, at 12:42 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Scott Macaulay, at 12:57 PM  

  • I agree with H. Hancock. Right now bonus features are an incentive to buy the physical product. I think we'll move to a place where they are included as bonus features on the download or else provided free online as promo pieces. I can't see the studios successfully charging extra for them.

    The comment about the costs of Blu-Ray authoring and bonus features is an interesting one. One for a couple of small films we produced we had to battle the distributors to get bonus features on the discs and even produce -- and assume the cost for them -- ourselves. If there was another layer of cost involved we certainly wouldn't have been able to do it.

    As for the Sendak clip, which I think is great, I think we will see more things like that online before the theatrical release. That's a very smart clip because it tells parents all around the world that the creator of the book their kid loves is behind the movie.

    By Blogger Scott Macaulay, at 12:59 PM  

  • Put me in the "#2" camp. I think eventually studios - and independent producers - realize that using this sort of content will pay for itself in the form of increased sales, regardless of where the point of distribution is (theaters, VOD, disc, etc).

    Those sorts of "high production value" items you mention like extensive making-ofs and such can still be released after the initial release but instead can become part of an ongoing conversation strategy that extends the word-of-mouth about the movie from that initial distribution through to its secondary release. Such material can keep awareness up and, again, I'm guessing ROI will be visible in the form of higher sales.

    "Bonus features" on discs are, yeah, great incentives to purchase physical media. But (and this might just be me) what's the re-watching value? They're better used as marketing materials, I think, as opposed to something that people want to archive along with the movie itself.

    That being said, I could see a model for ordering a movie on home video and, along with that, being able to pick a la carte what features you'd like to have custom-burned on a second disc.

    By Blogger Chris Thilk, at 10:42 AM  

  • don't know how common my experience is, but i stopped watching extras on dvds long ago because they mostly sucked. and really, how many times can you watch a behind the scenes of a film before you basically get it?

    unless significant effort is made in evolving extras into other things like args, i think they'll basically be obsolete.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 5:51 PM  

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