DVD killed the video star

If you haven't yet staked a claim, it's time to begin thinking about the world of DVD....
July 1, 2000

If you haven’t yet staked a claim, it’s time to begin thinking about the world of DVD.

I’m a recent convert. The same way I grudgingly made the switch from LPs to compact discs, I recently gave in and bought my first DVD player.

So this is what television is supposed to look like.

Compared to video or broadcast, the picture and sound produced by even a low-end DVD player are remarkable. But the price point of DVDs (roughly double that of video) means consumers will want more. Quality is great, but most consumers think in terms of quantity, and this will become a greater truism when the novelty of the format begins to wear off and consumers become more selective.

Every DVD has about four hours of running time on each side – that’s eight hours of potential. As most features run to two, there are a lot of hours left to fill – and unlike video, it’s space that will be there whether it is filled or not. Consumers will want that space filled with value-added material to justify shelling out those extra dollars.

And that means docs.

Right now, those hours are partially filled by studio efforts, but in most cases they are only half-assed attempts at content – a couple of trailers and behind-the-scenes shots. That space is prime realty for factual: ‘the making of’ specials, cast interviews, historical material… Will consumers buy an hour-long biography of Tom Hanks on video? Probably not in remarkable quantities. But how many people will see The Green Mile on DVD this year? (And, as DVDs pass for immortal, for years to come.) What about following the feature with the biography? What about pairing Wag the Dog with The War Room? (Especially since the doc was so much better…) Get James Cameron to sink the Titanic on one side, and Discovery to raise it on the other. DVDs are interactive – how about a History Channel quiz to support Das Boot?

Imagine a market where every rental or sale is tied to hours of factual programming, and you have an inkling of the potential for future partnerships. And the best part (if you’re not a consumer) is that DVDs aren’t cheap. A bigger pie might mean more for everyone involved, doc-makers included.

There is, of course, a caveat. As we see in this month’s technology report, up-conversion to any new technology is a potentially expensive problem. DVDs won’t be very forgiving with old formats. They in fact are going to necessitate huge amounts of new material. It will be a voracious industry, but only if factual lives up to the expectations created by the production values of the features.

It’s been said before, but factual filmmakers will soon have to become multimedia suppliers – disciples of all the digital disciplines – but by doing so, they gain access to a remarkably large mainstream audience. People who have never watched docs before are going to see them, and some might even discover that fact really is more entertaining than fiction.

Brendan Christie


About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.