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DVDs deliver extended cut of profit to studios

Consumer ire and discontent directed at the Recording Industry Association of America is almost legendary. But if the current trend of movie studios throwing out badly produced and overpriced DVDs continues, Hollywood may be the next focus of such feelings.

A few years ago, when DVD was a medium used only by movie buffs and collectors, studios began to produce special editions of certain movies. The storage space available on the discs allowed for new methods of presenting content that added much to the movie experience. Cut scenes, documentaries and insightful commentary tracks were cherished, and other properties of the discs, such as longevity because of no loss of picture or sound quality over time, also helped the adoption.

Now that DVD player sales outnumber VHS recorder sales and most stores or rental shops offer DVDs nearly exclusively, the medium has obviously made it into the mainstream. This, of course, means that even more movies are released on DVD and doors are opened for marketing practices that put the consumer at a disadvantage.

Certain movies, such as the original Star Wars trilogy, have been released numerous times on VHS, so there is a precedent of repeated releases that predates the arrival of DVDs. But the way movies are released now, some almost yearly with only minor changes, exudes pure marketing strategy.

There are instances where it makes sense to re-release a movie, such as Casablanca, in a restored version. Other movies, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy are released in both a “theatrical” cut of the movie, as well as a version of the extended cut, but with fair warning that lets consumers know that a “better” version of the movie is to be released down the road.

The problem is that many recent movies have seen iterations that fail any common sense test. The first two installments of the American Pie movies, for example, have each been released in edited and uncut versions, both in full-screen as well as widescreen, and of course in a special “Beneath the Crust” box set which was sold both as separate movies as well as a bundle. In total, the releases add up to 23 combined versions of the movies.

As more and more sites appear on the Web that offer illegal downloads of recent movies in wavering quality, movie studios should be careful not to fall in the same trap that the RIAA fell into, by trying to make a fast buck. It is after all the exploitation of the “evil” recording industry that many quote as reason for downloading or sharing music illegally.