The End of Movie Extras?

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

Yesterday, I watched Hanna on a DVD I had rented from Netflix.

[Speaking of Netflix, I was pleased to see that Netflix has abandoned its planned shift to Qwikster for DVD rentals. This was a move I previously severely criticized. Now back to our story…] 

The first thing that greeted me upon loading Hanna in my DVD Player was the following message:

“This disc is intended for rental purposes and only includes the feature film.”

Rental-specific DVDs are not especially new. In particular, I had noticed for several months that many of the DVDs I received from Netflix seemed to have expected extras missing altogether (a finding I subsequently confirmed online). But this was the first time a DVD had specifically alerted me to such an omission, advising me to purchase the movie if I wanted the extras. The option to select the extras was still present on the disc (such as for an alternate ending of Hanna). However, if I tried to access them, the message I just cited re-appeared. Any doubts I might have had about what was going on were swept away.

Of course, it has always been the case that renting a DVD from Netflix (unlike from a retail store such as the now-bankrupt Blockbuster) meant that you did not get any of the extras that might have come on a second disc. But this recent policy took it a step further. Now the extras were gone even from the primary DVD. In other words, the movie studios have bothered to create a special limited version of their DVDs, just for Netflix (and, I assume, other similar rental services).

I assume this is a move imposed on Netflix by Hollywood, not something that Netflix wanted. My reaction to this move is “How completely stupid!”

Do the movie studios really think I am going to shell out more bucks for a copy of Hanna, after having watched the Netflix rental disc? Just so I can see the film’s “alternate ending”? If so, they don’t have a clue about my buying habits (which I am guessing are similar to most Netflix subscribers).

Is this Hollywood’s master plan for preserving the sales of physical discs while the world moves increasingly towards streaming of movies? If so, they need to go back to the drawing board. All they are succeeding in doing is making their customers more annoyed. Just as with the DRM restrictions they’ve forced into HDMI, this works more to annoy legitimate users than to prevent piracy. The same goes for policies that require users to pay full price for a Blu-ray disc of a movie, even if they’ve already paid for both the DVD and VHS versions in years past.

The movie industry continues to put its head in the sand and their fingers in their ears (and yes, it’s difficult to do both things simultaneously, but they manage). Ignoring the lessons of the music industry, they continue to risk wrecking their entire business model rather than working to accommodate the changes that come with new technology. Rather than making movie watching more pleasant for their customers, they keep finding new ways to make it more of a pain.

The larger picture

A larger question looms: What does all of this mean for the future of “extras” included with DVD and Blu-ray discs? My Magic 8-Ball comes up: “Outlook not so good.”

If the future of watching movies at home is all about streaming and clouds, then extras may well go away entirely. As far as I know, no online service provides any extras with their rented or streamed movies. Even the iTunes Store, which offers “iTunes Extras” with some movie purchases, clearly states: “”iTunes Extras is not available with rented movies.”

Personally, I would not be upset by the loss of these extras. I rarely view these bonus features anyway. And when I do, it is even rarer that I am glad I bothered. I believe I am in the majority here. However, I am aware that a significant minority strongly disagrees with me. For many, the quality and quantity of the extras determine the value of a DVD or Blu-ray purchase as much as the movie itself. To appease such users, we may eventually see something like “iTunes Extras” become available even for rented/streamed movies. However, I do see kinks here. For starters, if you have only 24 hours to watch a rented movie, this won’t be sufficient to examine all the extras that come with many movies.

Maybe this can all be worked out. Maybe. A lot depends upon if and when Hollywood ever takes their collective heads out of the sand and unplugs their ears. That’s an alternate ending I’m not expecting any time soon.

[Personal note: This is my first column for TMO since the death of Steve Jobs. Like all of us, I was tremendously saddened by this loss. While I did not post a column on the subject here at TMO, I did offer reflections both at my personal blog and in a Macworld article.]

Comments

Tom Schmidt

I agree completely. How stupid & short sighted. If I’m renting it, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever buy it.

ppartekim

We typically never watch the extras and given a choice, we will buy the extra-less cheaper version of the disc. I still don’t buy BluRay as we don’t have HD yet (no cheap way to broadcast HD to the 10 TVs in the house). I can stream to all the TVs but not BluRay, so, I guess they don’t need my money..

Lee Dronick

Maybe this can all be worked out. Maybe. A lot depends upon if and when Hollywood ever takes their collective heads out of the sand and unplugs their ears. That?s an alternate ending I?m not expecting any time soon.

It isn’t sand in which they have their heads.

Maybe we need an Occupy Hollywood Movement

ilikeimac

I tend to fall into the category of people interested in the extras, but even so I watch extras on a very small percentage of movies that I like a whole lot or movies that have a particularly fascinating “making of” story to tell. If you watch a lot of DVD extras you find that most of them (1) were an afterthought made to be a checkbox feature of the DVD, (2) aren’t that uninteresting. You also learn that deleted scenes are deleted for good reasons.

So I think Ted is indeed in the majority in not caring about DVD extras. I wouldn’t say removing the extras is part of Hollywood’s “master plan;” I think it’s just something else they’re trying because it’s easy and there’s little downside. If it generates more DVD sales, great; if it doesn’t because people didn’t care that much to begin with, then maybe they can justifty cutting movie budgets a little more.

P.S. Here’s a great non-DVD extra about the movie Groundhog Day, from the actor who played “Ned Ryerson.”

geoduck

Is this Hollywood?s master plan for preserving the sales of physical discs while the world moves increasingly towards streaming of movies?

I found that line quite amusing. I don’t question the possibility that it’s correct. Rather I remember some years ago when you could have said:

Is this Hollywood?s master plan for preserving the sales of theatre tickets while the world moves increasingly towards physical disk movies?

That didn’t work out so well did it.

Lancashire-Witch

As a journalist in the British press remarked about 15 years ago - DVD should stand for ‘Dreadful Value Disk’.

I’ve never watched “extras”. My wife wonders “why doesn’t the movie just start?” when a disk is inserted.  I wonder why I’m constantly reminded not to do anything which might be illegal. I also wonder why navigating the contents of a DVD is so time-consuming and why a Region 4 disk has a Magyar soundtrack, and so on.

Lee Dronick

I tend to fall into the category of people interested in the extras,

I too like them and will check them out for the movies that I very much enjoy. I like movies and movie making, I enjoy a well done TV commercial, so the extras interest me.

Deleted scenes - Sometimes they are deleted so that the movie fits into a certain length of time.  At least with a DVD I can take the pause that refreshes, in the theater I can only sit so long before I remember that I didn’t take my saw palmetto.

chppio

I have also noted the gradual departure of “extras” from my rental DVDs and BluRay discs.  I enjoy some of the extras, particularly the director’s/producer’s/actors commentary tracks which run over the regular soundtrack.  To my mind that is truly an extra and one which I would be willing to pay a premium for on the movies I find worthy of watching more than once.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid you may be correct in your assessment of Hollywood’s lack on vision on this.  The industry has a startlingly consistant dismal record.

John Dingler, artist

Surprised that the question of time is not addressed. Who but connoisseurs have the time to watch these non-movies?

Lee Dronick

Surprised that the question of time is not addressed. Who but connoisseurs have the time to watch these non-movies?

I budget my time, I watch this, but not that.

annonymous_man

Interesting article. By the way when referring to optical discs like CDs, DVDs, Blu Ray Discs for music and videos or even VCDs disc is spelled as disc. Disk with the k at the end though is used when referring to floppy disks or disk drives whether internal disk drives in a computer or an external hard drive - here disk is spelled as disk.

iJack

My daily TMO newsletter screamed at me, “The End of Movie Extras?”  WTF, I am thinking as Firefox is (slowly) booting for a further read.  No more crowd scenes?  No more “Gladiator,” or exteriors shot on the streets of Noo Yawk?  How on earth can they do anymore big battle scenes without movie extras?  And what does this have to do with the Mac?

Should the topic arise again, how about, “The End of DVD Extras?”

webjprgm

Most of the time the extras are a total waste of time.  But I would never buy a copy of “The Incredibles” without also getting “Jack-Jack Attack”.  In fact, more than 50% of the time when I watch that movie I immediately watch the extra right after.  But you can completely ignore all the other extras on The Incredibles.

Basically, I agree with the above comments that there are rare movies for which an extra is good, perhaps an interesting Making Of story, perhaps a short featurette like with Pixar, or perhaps a scene that the director wished s/he could have kept but had to cut for time reasons rather than quality ones.

But if extras go away, I’m sure Pixar could find another way to give people their mini-features, and I would probably get the Making Of LotR on a website promoting the movie.  So go ahead and get rid of those on DVDs.

Ted Landau

And what does this have to do with the Mac? Should the topic arise again, how about, ?The End of DVD Extras??

Good point about the title. We had not thought about that implication. Thanks for the heads-up.

As to “what does this have to do with the Mac?”, Netflix runs on Macs via Safari. There is a app for Netflix on iOS devices. You can access Netflix on an Apple TV. Beyond that, TMO articles frequently extend into more general technology topics that affect the Apple universe but are not necessarily Apple-specific.

iJack

Netflix runs on Macs via Safari. There is a app…

Yeah, I know all that.  I watch Netflix on my Mac frequently (actually, I used Fluid to create a stand-alone viewer for Netflix).  But I was asking myself the question before I realized you didn’t really mean, “movie extras.”

cb50dc

if you have only 24 hours to watch a rented movie, this won?t be sufficient to examine all the extras that come with many movies.

Not that I’d encourage anyone to do anything in violation of copyright protection, but (cough cough) Handbrake or similar apps can solve that problem.

For my fellow soon-to-be-dinosaurs who still prefer those shiny silver roundy spinny thingies, consider also your local public library. We get about a third of our DVDs there, completely free, with a week to enjoy them.

ilikeimac

optical discs like CDs, DVDs, Blu Ray Discs for music and videos or even VCDs disc is spelled as disc

Do you have a source for this? I agree with your distinction (disk == magnetic, disc == optical) but it’s turning out to be harder than I thought to find an authorative source that backs this up. Oddly the most authorative source I can find is Apple’s knowledge base article HT2300.

Many other web sites echo the same guideline but none cite a grammar handbooks, dictionaries or style guides. The usually well-researched Grammar Girl has no citations.

Matt

I agree with you somewhat, especially in regards to rentals. But what bothers me more is that I continue to buy movies and TV seasons on Blu-Ray and rip the video with Handbrake because iTunes almost never offers the extras that those disks contain. It’s hard to justify paying $20 for a 720p movie when I can pay $20-$25 for a 1080p movie with director’s commentary and deleted scenes. I mean, if I’m already spending $20 for a movie, I assume it’s because I *really* like it. Same thing with TV seasons. There are so many deleted scenes that they can add up to multiple hours. I don’t get any of that with iTunes. It makes me wonder if the success of iTunes sales is causing studios to believe they don’t have to offer extra content to get people to buy their products.

Brady

I am a film buff, and, if I have the option to watch extras, I often will. I am guessing that the “movie only” DVDs are a response by the movie studios to entice people like myself to purchase a movie that I really enjoyed in order to look further into the extras or to re-watch it at my leisure. That is also why they are giving Netflix such a hard time about the number of views of certain titles. I don’t like going to the movie theatre anymore because it’s become prohibitively expensive, and I am tired of having my experience spoiled by people who can’t leave their various devices off for the duration of the film. So, now I watch at home or online. I don’t imagine the studios are making very much off of me when I grab a $1 DVD from a Redbox kiosk or watch something online through Netflix. I don’t know whether I am the exception or the rule among viewers, but - if I’m not the rule yet - I may be soon. I think the studios are afraid of just that possibility, and they are desperate to find a way to get a few more bucks out of me (and the others like me).
In my case, it hasn’t worked yet, but maybe it has worked on others. I actually hope that it has, because I think the next step that studios will take might be making movies available for sale within six months but withholding rental rights for up to a year.

geoduck

I don?t like going to the movie theatre anymore because it?s become prohibitively expensive, and I am tired of having my experience spoiled by people who can?t leave their various devices off for the duration of the film.

Agreed. I figured out that the last time I went to a theatre to see a film was 2005. I’ve seen a fair number of flicks since then but without the hassle.

iJack

I just iChatted with my Hollywood insider, who’s been a cameraman/DP for many years.  Here’s what he said:

- It used to be a novelty to get people to buy a DVD, possibly even after they had seen the movie in the theater.  Some people still like a movie so much, they want to own it.  This demographic includes women and young teens.

- Production costs for interviews and behind-the-scenes are almost certainly under $100K, but once agents got wind to what was going on, actors and directors wanted big bucks; $500K - $2 Mil for an interview, and A-list people wanted that plus a piece of distribution.  This would include directors, writers and editors doing those voice tracks explaining the scene, or why something was cut.

- Studios went along for a while, but as more and more started asking for a piece of international DVD distribution, the studios balked. It’s one of the reasons you don?t see Julia Roberts, Jack Nicholson, or other A-listers being interviewed any more.

- Studios realized:
? that every home now had a DVD player
? Blockbusters and Red Boxes had become ubiquitous
? even without financial models in place, on-demand was the future
? and finally, that people would buy/rent/stream with or without the DVD extras.

I personally think it?s a great pity, since (especially) the behind the scenes, VOs and narrated outtakes provide an eyewitness piece of cinematic history, that future film buff/historians would relish.

One of the first big steps into digital cinema came when Michael Mann decided to make ?Miami Vice? using digital rather than film.  He discusses this at length in the DVD extras, and it is very revealing stuff to which we otherwise wouldn’t have had access.

Ross Edwards

A lot of the “extras” are indeed garbage.  But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes you get extras that are fantastic making-of material, such as with the Lord of the Rings extended editions, and sometimes you get actual additional content that didn’t belong in the movie but genuinely adds to the experience, such as “Dug’s Secret Mission” and “Flynn Lives” short films on the Up and Tron Legacy blu-rays, respectively.

I think in time the iTunes distribution framework will be capable of handling this sort of thing and extras can become a part of digital distribution.  What needs to happen is that each movie entry in iTunes needs to be able to be its own subfolder (for lack of a better term—certainly I am happy to see the file management metaphor NOT be used for this, but it’s the term we currently understand) and in that subfolder you have the various extras along with the movie.  iTunes is almost, but not quite, doing this with TV shows, which you can split by season and by episode.  Why shouldn’t there be a “Star Wars” library icon that opens up a sublibrary that includes the original trilogy, the making-of specials, and deleted scenes?  They could even omit everything filmed after 1996 and I’d be even happier.

As unintuitive as it is, right now the easiest way to do this is with clunky ol’ subdirectories.  With a jailbroken Apple TV, parsing and viewing is easy.  There are some iOS apps that let you read from your drive and mirror to the TV set and they are functional enough.  But I’d rather do it without workarounds.

Ted Landau

Not that I?d encourage anyone to do anything in violation of copyright protection, but (cough cough) Handbrake or similar apps can solve that problem.

While this may be true for some “extra-less” DVDs, it was not the case for Hanna. I used a Handbrake-like utility and extracted every individual file. The extras were not to be found.

Matt

left this comment over at macnotables: regarding movie extras on dvds, the extras are the only reason I buy a dvd. if the dvd doesn?t have extras, I won?t buy it.

matt

regarding movie extras on dvds, the extras are the only reason I buy a dvd. if the dvd doesn?t have extras, I won?t buy it.

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