DVD biz: It’s really got a hold on me

Posted in DVD, Netflix, recession, Redbox, studios by Diane on August 17, 2009

Why can’t I quit the DVD biz?  I recently stepped away from covering the vid biz for a third time, yet find myself completely taken by the growing battle between the studios, kiosk companies and now Netflix.

There are so many angles of this story that fascinate me: The resurgence of rental, legal claims of studio withholding content, role of the economy on changing consumption patterns and impact the latter will have on Hollywood. Also intriguing: The fact studios are so divided over how to handle Redbox, and that both Universal and Fox were trying to impose revenue-sharing terms before talks broke down with the kiosk company.

Of course, knowing the tortured backstory helps. Studios have hated rental from the beginning and tried their darnedest to prevent retailers from renting movies; the so-called Betamax case revolving around this issue went all the way to the Supreme Court.

By the time I started covering homevid in1994, the sell-through VHS biz was just starting to take off, but the overall biz was still primarily rental, with most cassettes priced at a premium. The DVD boom came; I married my husband, whom I met during my first stint at a video trade.

Then I stepped away for the first time. My first few years at Variety, I had nothing to do with video coverage, editing party coverage among other duties. When the video guy was shown the door, however, I got back into the game.

Covering the biz again, more from a studio perspective this time, reminded me of the aggravations of the beat: Studios have always protected their numbers, to the point of bullying press with threats of economic reprisals. Execs complain they’re under-covered and -appreciated, without seeming to comprehend basic deadline requirements of daily journalism.

So I wasn’t sorry to step back a second time to focus on film. Only that didn’t last long; my editor reasoned I was good at covering the biz, so homevid one again became my responsibility; eventually my primary beats shifted to digital media and home entertainment, two very dynamic areas of showbiz. Earlier this year, however, the powers that be decided those areas were expendable and I was among those out of a job in sweeping layoffs.

Again, no tears. But this darn Redbox story keeps drawing me back in; I’m fascinated by it and how it’s being covered. It’s a huge story, with many implications for Hollywood. I hope it gets resolved soon. Or maybe I don’t.

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