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DVD Units Shift Bonus Onus to iPhone

Once focused on Blu-ray, extended feature development shifts to Apple’s smart phone.

The hottest home entertainment technology emerging in living rooms this holiday season just may be the iPhone.

Studio video divisions, which had for several years been blue-laser-focused on developing Java-based interactive bonus features tied to the Blu-ray format, are currently rolling out myriad applications that supplement the movie-watching experience via iPhones and social networking.

On Tuesday morning, Fox Home Entertainment officials hosted an on-the-lot mixer with trade journalists and industry hangers-on to introduce the special features on their upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release of “Night of the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian”

Highlighted was the introduction of FoxPop, a downloadable iPhone app that automatically syncs to the playback of the movie by “listening” to the soundtrack. Users receive trivia and quizzes that correspond to whatever scene they’re watching. They can also engage in a Twitter-like exchange of commentary and dialog with friends and family members who are watching the same film simultaneously somewhere else.

The feature, which will also be included in upcoming Fox disc releases of “500 Days of Summer” and “Jennifer’s Body,” was developed by Orange, Calif.-based software developer Spot 411, which claims that about a third of movie watchers regularly multi-task using computers or smart phones as they watch films.

"Social networking has become a universal connector in our everyday life," said Mary Daily, executive VP of marketing, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment."It makes sense to incorporate the interactive elements that have been so well received by the general public into our projects. We are always looking at ways to enhance the home experience, and see FoxPop as a way of getting the entire family engaged, sort of a modern day board game. "

For their part, both Universal and Lionsgate are also rolling out iPhone-based bonus features in the fourth quarter. The Blu-ray version of Lionsgate’s “Gamer,” for example, will allow users to swap movie stills and other content via their phones. Meanwhile, watchers of Universal’s “Public Enemies” and “Inglourious Basterds” will be able to control their Blu-ray players with their iPhone.

According to consumer electronics analyst Richard Doherty, while the slow-to-take-off Blu-ray format is currently the “tent” under which such new applications are mainly dispersed, Fox’s decision to make FoxPop platform-agnostic may be a sign that bonus-feature development is moving on the high-def disc format. FoxPop, for example, can work with any format.

“Next year at this time, we may not be going to Blu-con,” said Doherty, referencing last week’s Los Angeles-based Blu-ray conference. “Maybe we’ll be going to iPhone-con.”