Paramount Relents, Will Issue Open-Format DVDs

Trekkers, rejoice! Paramount Home Video, owner of the Star Trek franchise and Indiana Jones movies, will release open-format DVDs this year, the company announced Monday, April 27. The decision comes two weeks after Blockbuster Music & Video announced that it would begin a big push with DVD rentals. The growing popularity of DVD was a major factor in both decisions: Consumer-electronics industry analysts predict that there will be as many as one million DVD players in American homes by the end of 1998.

Observers note that the swelling market is becoming too attractive for the big studios to ignore. "Paramount has been watching the development of the DVD market for some time," says Eric Doctorow, president of Paramount's Worldwide Home Video, "and we are pleased to see it start to gain the momentum necessary for this format to succeed." Of the major studios, only 20th Century Fox's home-video division continues to hold out against the open format.

Divx, Circuit City's beleaguered pay-per-view alternative, is just beginning its bicoastal trial run and is scheduled to debut nationally later this summer. Paramount's announcement could deal a serious blow to the controversial format, which has suffered near-universal vilification in the home-entertainment press. Its supposedly extra-rigorous copy-protection scheme was one attraction for the majors, but that concern has been softened somewhat by efforts in the US congress and various international organizations to crack down on piracy. "We are pleased that progress continues to be made toward obtaining legislation and the creation of anti-piracy technologies that will protect our copyrights," says Doctorow.

Without mentioning specific titles, Doctorow says Paramount intends to release DVDs "day and date" with VHS tapes. "Our goal is to release current titles . . . along with a selection of library product, because this will give DVD the best chance to succeed." Details on the release schedule will be announced later. Paramount has one of Hollywood's largest film inventories.

SGHT's inside source at Paramount told us he doesn't "know any more than what was stated in the press release," but opined that Titanic won't be among the first available titles. However, he does expect a wide variety of films to begin flowing to dealers within a few weeks. The cooperation of Paramount and Blockbuster is a great, if predictable, example of economic symbiosis. Both companies are units of Viacom.