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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hollywood Bullish on DVD

HOLLYWOOD -- On Tuesday, Walt Disney Co. will reintroduce its classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" to the United States for the 10th time in 64 years. And this time -- with its release on DVD -- may be the biggest payday yet.

Disney hopes consumers will scoop up the DVD not only for the restored picture and sound of the 84-minute movie but also for the eight hours of bonus material in the two-disc set.

On the DVD, which has a suggested price of $29.99, a talking "Magic Mirror" host guides viewers to various features, including a 40-minute documentary on the making of the 1937 movie, a karaoke-style "Heigh-Ho" sing-along, Dopey's Wild Mine Ride game and an original rendition of "Some Day My Prince Will Come" by Barbra Streisand.

Disney's most ambitious DVD to date comes amid an unprecedented wave of high-profile digital launches this quarter. Studios are seeking to cash in on the surging growth of the DVD market and give consumers more reason to switch from VHS to digital format.

Universal Studios, a unit of Vivendi Universal, will release three digital titles by year's end -- "The Mummy Returns," "Jurassic Park III" and "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas." DreamWorks SKG plans a big splash for its DVD version of the summer hit "Shrek," a two-disc set due out Nov. 2 with 11 hours of programming. And several classic movies, including Paramount Pictures' "Godfather" trilogy, also will debut soon in digital format.

"DVD is really on a roll," said Thomas Arnold, editor of Video Store Magazine.

Just a few years ago, studios such as Disney, Paramount and News Corp.-owned 20th Century Fox shunned DVD, fearing piracy and the prospect that the technology would fizzle just as Betamax had done.

Now they are trying to outdo each other with increasingly elaborate discs that represent a quantum leap from the bare-bones, add-on look of earlier digital experiments. In the newest souped-up DVDs, there are movie outtakes, directors' commentaries, behind-the-scenes looks at the making of the movies, explanations of the special effects -- even DVD-ROM games aimed at broadening the target market of families and children.

"Shrek," for example, includes a DVD-ROM program that enables viewers to voice the lines of their favorite Shrek characters. The game runs only on a computer.

"From a consumer standpoint, it's a complete experience in the way you see a movie," said Ken Graffeo, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Universal Studios Home Video. "Consumers want to see more, and they want to see behind the scenes."

Digital videos are becoming key money makers for studios at a time when they face a slowdown in home video sales, tighter margins for theatrical releases and a softening advertising market, which has been exacerbated by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The number of DVD units shipped to retailers jumped from 5.5 million in 1997 to 182 million in 2000. In the first half of 2001, 150 million shipments were made, up from 60 million during the same period in 2000, according to DVD Entertainment Group, a Los Angeles-based trade association. The average retail price of a DVD is $23.

DVD, advocates note, is the fastest-growing consumer electronics product. In four years, more than 20 million households have purchased DVD players. It took videocassette recorders three times as long to reach the same milestone.

The number is expected to exceed 175 million households by 2004, according to the Consumer Electronics Manufacturing Association.

The appeal is simple: DVDs provide clearer and sharper pictures than VHS tapes, they're cheaper to make and more profitable for studios -- studios net as much as 40 percent more on the sale of a DVD than with a VHS tape -- and consumers are snapping them up at record rates.

A key challenge for the studios, however, is striking a balance between expanding DVD and not alienating the customers who buy videos.

"DVD is hot and sexy and we want to make 'Shrek' a must-see DVD," said Kelley Avery, worldwide head of home-video entertainment for DreamWorks. "At the same time, we want to make sure we don't walk away from the VHS customer."

So DreamWorks added a three-minute extended ending to both the VHS and DVD versions, Avery said.