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DVD - YES, WE ARE BEING SCREWED

REGION FOUR . . . REGION POOR
Boy, did we hit a nerve! Last week’s article, DVD – Are You Being Screwed, prompted a rash of letters, pretty much in the affirmative. Australia is Region 4 in DVD world, but most think we are Region Poor in terms of the product. Andrew L. Urban weighs into the debate – and we publish some of your letters.

Whatever arguments the DVD industry mounts in defence of its DVD policies, one thing is undeniable: it has failed miserably in its public relations on the matter of region encoding and on the matter of Australian discs with lower content levels than the American releases.

The fact is, DVD is a fantastic home entertainment platform and Australians are embracing it eagerly – as the industry had hoped. But in the age of the internet it is naïve at best to imagine consumers willing to settle for a lesser product here than consumers can obtain in the US. What marketing guru thought otherwise?

Our task is to keep our readers informed about new movie releases – whether in the cinema, on VHS or DVD. We deal with all the local DVD distributors, and some are genuinely consumer oriented, keen and sincere about their product. Michelle Garra at Columbia TriStar, for example, has taken the initiative and forged an industry alliance to market DVD to consumers and is a champion of the product. But there are companies whose media liaison consists of ignoring the media.

This sort of policy variation is mirrored in the way DVD releases are marketed by the studios. Paramount, for example, has only now moved to join the DVD revolution. As for the discrepancies in DVD content from one region to another, no amount of market-babble will convince a movie lover to happily settle for a disc in pan and scan, for example, when his mate in America has the same movie on DVD in widescreen.

Ben Hooft, the author of last week’s article, has this to add:

"Anyone who has purchased the recently released Toy Story Box Set in Australia might like know that we are missing some major extras present on the R1 version. These include an audio commentary, an isolated sound effects soundtrack, as well as two interviews with Woody and Buzz on the Toy Story disc and an audio commentary, an isolated music track, an isolated sound effects track on the Toy Story 2 disc.

Still on the topic of Disney releases, the local versions of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 are also missing a lot of extras. Fantasia misses out on two audio commentaries, a making of documentary and DTS audio and Fantasia 2000 misses out on two audio commentaries, a making of documentary, and two animated short films and DTS audio. The two movies are also available in a three-disc box set, with the third disc containing a mountain of extras, none of which are available in Australia."

Imagine if a CD of your favourite band was finally available in Australia – but without three or four of the tracks!

Just read some of the letters we received to get an idea of the strength of feeling on this subject.

But let’s start with the lone voice who felt we were a tad too harsh.

From Chris Till, Proprietor, DVD Plaza - www.dvdplaza.com.au
I do think you're exaggerating the RCE (Region Code Enhancement) system somewhat - it is not a new version of region coding, it's simply an additional measure "on top of" region coding to make R1 less worthy of importing. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to introduce it here in R4, such a system would only serve to cripple the ability for the majority of Australian consumers to play their own discs. I spoke to many of the Australian distributors last year regarding the matter, and each confirmed there was no intention nor reason to even consider such a move.

I also believe raising the issue of "Are you being screwed" to be harsh, and rather late. The US may have far more discs than Australia, but DVD was launched there far earlier and they have a much larger consumer base. Older R4 discs may have been inferior to R1, but the majority of R4 releases these days either match or exceeded R1 - heck we're even getting a lot of releases ahead of R1 these days! It's hardly a case of distributors not caring about consumers, the big and small guys are all investing significantly to produce the highest quality product they possibly can - what excites me the most is many of the people behind the distributors are serious DVD fanatics, and care about the product. We've even had Warner drop the snapper case, exclusively here in Australia, and they agreed to provide DVD Plaza with replacement slicks to distribute free of charge to consumers who had previously purchased DVDs in cardboard cases.

I don't wish to make light of your concerns, however we're all trying hard to push region 4 to consumers and it concerns me "Are you being screwed" will not exactly help the format. What we need to focus on is issues that are a problem for region 4 and affecting consumers right now - DTS and the appalling lack of participation from Paramount for example are issues that are damaging our local market by forcing consumers to look overseas.

Supplementary letter from Chris Till: I guess I need to take back my comment about Paramount since they have now confirmed launch in April.

From Kevin Parker
I can understand the reasons given for regional coding on new release films, but what I don't understand is the necessity for it on "back catalogue" films, many going back as far as the 1930s and earlier. Many of these films never seem to get a release locally and unless I get my player modified (thereby voiding the warranty) I can't see them.

I believe that with books, if a local distributor with the rights to a particular title doesn't release it locally within a certain time limit, bookstores are then allowed to directly import the title. I don't see why DVD should be any different.

From Tony Martin
Re: DVDs. Five minutes cruising the pages of Amazon.com will confirm that we in Australia, are indeed being screwed. While most are aware that R1 offers a cornucopia of Special Editions unavailable here in Australia (Brazil, Rushmore, Being John Malkovich, The Limey etc) let me give you an example of a much subtler rip-off. I love the film Dog Day Afternoon. The R4 DVD offers me a straight print of the movie in hideous Pan & Scan with no extras. The R1 disc however, while also offering no extras or commentary tracks, features the Pan & Scan print on side one...and a beautiful widescreen print on side 2. Which one would you buy? I must confess at this point I have yet to invest in a DVD player, but when I do I will be ordering my player from the US, and will be buying all my discs over the net from the US also. This may sound terribly "Un-Australian" but with local R4 distributors treating movie fans so shabbily, R1 is the only possible choice for me - and any serious film buff.

From Pete Roberts
I read your feature on DVDs Are You Being Screwed and was interested to read that companies affected by RCE, namely Toshiba, have found ways around the new Coding technology. As I own a Toshiba and am seriously thinking of getting it modified, I would like to know exactly what these methods are, even if they "require a little more button pushing than usual". Any help would be greatly appreciated. By the way, I loved your article. Let's hope that things can be done to rectify the situation.

From Sacha Temple
Movie studios and DVD manufacturers are acting in an anti-competitive manner by working together over the global DVD zoning arrangements. They are clearly in breach of the Trade Practices Act by working in such a collusive manner. They are also inhibiting free trade. We as consumers are being screwed by these movie companies who are limiting our choice of available movies. Once again movie companies are placing profits before the interests of consumers. Movie companies forget that they need us, the consumers, as without us there would be no market and no consumption of their products.

From Tim Cope
I have no problem with the concept of region coding when it comes to new releases due to the different release dates in different countries. Where I think we are being most screwed is in the back catalogue of movies. Looking on a website like Amazon.com there are hundreds of 'older' movies available that we can only dream of getting in region 4. I have resisted having my player modified at the moment but surely this is the main reason people are having it done.

From The Goat
I totally agree that Australians are being screwed around. I want to keep my money within the country, but there is just so much more available in the states. I have just bought a Playstation 2 and am already ticked off at the limited market presence of DVDs in Australia (compared to the States). I am so angry that I want to get my PS2 multiregioned and purchase all my stuff from America, even if it costs me a little extra it will be worth it!
P.S Great article.

From L. Gonsalves:
Great article. I would definitely like to see DTS disks come to Australia but as they are not I have no choice but to buy them from overseas.

Published March 8, 2001

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