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R.I.P. DVD: The Fast Foodization of Movies

0308 blockbuster
The New York Times has declared the DVD dead. In other breaking news, the paper also reported that Charlie Sheen has been acting weird lately and ice cream tastes good when you eat it. To be fair, although Times DVD columnist Dave Kehr does, in his most recent piece, treat technology a bit like Columbus treated the New World (“I have discovered this place and now it matters—pay no attention to those people in that village over there!”), his basic assumption is solid. As proof, Kehr cites a report in Home Media Magazine that sales for the top 20 DVD titles are down 40 percent from this time last year. He points to the very public collapse of Blockbuster and the very obvious disappearance of mom-and-pop rental stores. He asserts that major studios “have drastically cut back on full-scale releases of library titles”—and as he’s writing for the Times, we’ll take him at his word on that.

Kehr also brings up a little-talked-about point: What gets streamed into one’s home via Netflix and Amazon is to DVD and Blu-ray what Taco Bell “taco meat filling” is to a Peter Luger steak. But the less-quality-and-cheaper approach of streaming services is winning, and more and more corroborating evidence to support that assertion is popping up all the time. On Monday, Universal became the first major studio to sign a deal with AnyClip, which The Hollywood Reporter describes as “a company that chops up films digitally and makes every moment searchable.” AnyClip hopes to partner with sites such as Hulu and IMDb to allow users to search for, well, any clip from any movie. Viewers of those clips could then follow links to iTunes, Amazon, or Netflix, where they would be able to buy or rent the film—or laugh at the idea of paying actual money to watch something and decide that the three free minutes of “Smokey and the Bandit II” is quite enough, thanks. (For those with pockets deep enough to afford a slice of pizza or a package of teeth-whitening gum, Warner Bros. announced Monday that it will make its films available to rent via Facebook for $3 a pop.)

The death of the DVD market is both a threat and an opportunity for actors. DVD and video residuals have been a subject of grousing since their institution, and the emergence of new-media distribution represents a chance for actors to secure a larger slice of the pie. But there are solid indications out there that new media is also cutting into theatrical and broadcast viewing and that erosion of those markets endangers the livelihoods of everyone in the entertainment industry. The AnyClip-Universal story appears to be a small one, but it illustrates a fundamental argument taking place within the screen-performers’ unions. One side says that the world has already changed and the unions have let the moment slip past by not demanding better compensation for new media. The other can point to something like AnyClip and say that the new-media universe is still a work in progress and that trying to cast a permanent model for it right now would be dangerous.

Ray Rodriguez, the Screen Actors Guild’s deputy national executive director for contracts, emphasized that new-media provisions are “extremely complex and very new,” and he added that the answer to how those would apply to AnyClip would require “further investigation.” With DVDs disappearing and new replacements for them appearing every day, it looks like there will be plenty of further investigation ahead.

Pictured: a Blockbuster store in New York City (Photo: Getty Images)

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