Hollywood zealously guards the movies it creates from digital piracy, but in the internet era, consumers have an increasingly flexible appreciation for copyright protections, and that may require a new approach.
As part of a new partnership, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and VUDU, Wal-Mart’s free video streaming service, will allow customers to clip sections of the movies they buy and share their favorite scenes on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.
There are certain safeguards in place that will limit the length of the clips that users can post, so they’re not offering up the whole film for free, but the option would have been unthinkable five or 10 years ago.
“We think it raises the value of ownership,”said Jim Underwood, executive vice president of Worldwide Digital and Commercial Strategy, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “People still love films, they just want to associate with them differently in a digital medium.”
“On Facebook or Twitter, sharing clips allows consumers to become marketers of a film or a show their association with content in a way they can’t in the disc space,” he added.
In addition, the companies are teaming up to add extra features to digital copies of movies, the partners said Wednesday.
The plan is to recreate the deleted scenes footage and “making of” features that were first popularized by DVDs and Blu-rays, while adding a digital twist. Extras will now also sport interactive features that will allow users to pull up information on a particular scene or find out information and trivia about a particular actor.
“On discs there’s more of a linear experience,” Underwood said. “We wanted to integrate the extras in a way that is tailored for the platform and can be scalable across the industry.”
The first of these souped up digital copies will be available for purchase this week with the release of “District 9” (pictured above). These will be followed in short order by new releases like “This Is the End,” “After Earth,” “White House Down,” “Grown Ups 2,” “Mortal Instruments” “Smurfs 2” and “One Direction — This is Us.”
The copies with extras will carry no additional charge. Sony said going forward, a significant portion of its new releases will have digital extras and that certain library titles that lend themselves to the treatment may be offered with additional goodies.
The announcement comes as digital sales of movies and shows are on pace to increase 50 percent this year. Analysts project they will hit $1.3 billion, the first time revenues have topped the billion dollar mark. In order to accelerate sales, studios have been experimenting with ways to increase the value proposition of ownership, by offering films on digital platforms weeks before physical copies hit store shelves.
They’ve also partnered in the cloud-based Ultraviolet service, which allows consumers to access the films they buy across multiple devices.
“There’s been robust growth in the space, and the [Sony] features will only help,” Tom Adams, a media analyst at IHS Screen Digest, said. “The extra features that were a driver for DVD sales in the early days are not as wildly popular as they were, but the interactive stuff is cool and is the kind of thing that turns consumers on.”
Growing the digital business is crucial. While the overall home entertainment market showed signs of stabilizing last year, revenues for the most recent fiscal quarter fell 1.4 percent to $3.94 billion on weaker DVD sales and rentals, according to the Digital Entertainment Group. This drop puts on the pressure for the industry to bolster electronic sales.
To that end, Sony said it will share the technical framework it used with other digital retailers and studios in the hopes that they will embrace its approach.
“We want to get to a point where there’s a consistent experience,” Underwood said. “Where every time you buy a digital copy of something you know exactly what you’re getting.”