Rocko’s Modern Life & Unwitting Longevity

Via: Shout! Factory
Via: Shout! Factory

The good people at Shout! Factory recently sent over a copy of the complete Rocko’s Modern Life on DVD and while slowly working my way through it, something struck me: it was totally unwitting in its longevity! Don’t believe me? Check out these reasons why.

It Was Created in a Time Before DVD

Yes, VHS was about, but at a time when feature films were selling for $30, the notion of putting an entire series out on home media was barely a glimmer in an executive’s eye. Animated TV shows were put out with the understanding (especially on cable networks) that their lifespan was limited. Once they ended production, there was hope for only a few years of reruns before new content took over.

Thankfully, that situation didn’t last forever, and the dominance of DVD was spurred on by consumer demand for content that previously never had a release. That trend continues today. Even with the transition to digital distribution already well under way, DVD continues to offer features not found in online streams or even torrents. Things like commentaries, shorts and the 2012 live recording with Joe Murray and crew,  give the Rocko DVD the edge it needs to make it worth your while.

Joe Murray Admits the Production Was A Roller Coaster

If you read Joe Murray’s (quite excellent) blog, there are plenty of posts where he discusses the production of Rocko’s Modern Life and how comical it was in many ways. The shoddiness of the studio building itself, the late, late nights, the arguing with the network. None of these indicated at the time that the show would be the massive success that it was. Neither did they indicate that it would surpass the quality of many subsequent productions by a country mile.

Oh sure, the animation isn’t as fluid as today’s shows, but that’s because it’s traditional animation; the awesome kind! Done without computers nothing much more than a pencil and paper. This time-tested method of animation production also gave Rocko the looseness for which it is known for.

Despite all these apparent setbacks, Rocko’s Modern Life managed to reach the pantheon of excellence simply by being a great show. As an almost-original Nicktoon, it’s immediate success was all but assured, and its long-term popularity was burnished by some fantastic plots, subtle and not-so-subtle innuendo and a fantastic cast of characters that could be universally related to.

It’s More Than 20 Years Later and We’re Still Talking About It

Why the reason for this post at all? Well contemporary culture is notoriously fickle and forgettable; a quick visit to your nearest 3 for $10 bin will provide ample evidence of that. Any show that manages to not only warrant a release on DVD after its original audience has earned the right to sign contracts is noteworthy. Such a show is particularly so if it continues to provide entertainment for legions of new fans who could well be the kids of original viewers.

This is important to note because Joe Murray and crew didn’t sit down during production and try to figure out how to make their show appeal to audiences 20 years into the future. They just didn’t in the same way that the crews at Termite Terrace didn’t for one second think that what they had to crank out on a weekly basis would still get the same laughs from audiences more than 50 years later.

Such is the power of both comedy and a commitment to quality. Thankfully Rocko’s Modern Life has plenty of both.

So what are you waiting for? Enjoy the madness for yourself with the complete, 8-disc set from Shout! Factory today!

Only 14 Months Late, ‘A Monster in Paris’ Finally Reaches America

Amazon_A Monster in Paris BR cover
Via: Amazon.com

You may or may not be familiar with A Monster in Paris. It’s an animated film produced by Luc Besson that never seemed to make it to American shores despite a limited release in Canada (and a proper English dub too.) It was first mentioned on this blog nearly two years ago, and Irish animater Nichola Kehoe was exceedingly generous in providing a guest review when the film was released there in February 2012. Now, fourteen months after its premiere, A Monster in Paris finally gets an official US release.

The Facts

With thanks to Mike Bastoli over at Big Screen Animation, we learn that the film gets its release through the good people at Shout! Factory. They’re not being picky either, with both a 3-D Blu-Ray/DVD/digital copy combo pack and a plain ol’ vanilla DVD being your choices come April 16th.

I’m excited for this film, and have been ever since the I saw the trailer above (and even more so since Katie Shanahan,  a.k.a. Kt Shy gushed about it after a Toronto screening). It looks fantastic and Luc Besson being the experienced director that he is, the story is sure to be at least competent in concept as well as execution.

Why The Heck Did it Take 14 Months?

Unfortunately, the film did not do great business at the box office despite being a hit with the critics (isn’t that always the case). Yours truly was even admonished by Digital Domain founder Scott Ross for suggesting the film was a model to follow. (It lost ~$10 million.)

In any case, no US partner was involved in the production. This alone would have made getting into that market a lot tougher. Yes, GKids has been known to take on independent foreign films with success. Why they did not do so in this case remains unknown, but their 2012 slate was quite a full one so it’s a possibility that A Monster in Paris simply didn’t get the luck of the draw.

Without a theatrical release, DVD sales are a steep uphill battle (no pre-existing public exposure). Shout! have a bit of a knack for precisely this kind of thing though (they released, and I have, DVD boxsets for the DIC series Sonic Undergound if that’s any indication). Discussions take a while and so finally, more than 14 months after its premiere, we’ll finally be able to see A Monster in Paris in the US without having to resort to ‘special imports’ or The Pirate Bay.

The Questions This Debacle Raises

From a fan’s point of view, it’s ludicrous that we’ve had to wait so long for a film. OK so there aren’t that many of us (or maybe there are, if Google search recommendations are anything to go by), but we do have money that we’d gladly give to see the film. I’m a patient man, but plenty of others are not, and by waiting so long, the producers may well have forgone some revenue. A $10 million deficit is a large amount, but getting some money back is better than none at all, right?

Secondly, what exactly has been going on in those 14 months? I doubt that the producers have been searching for a US distributor all that time. All signs seem to indicate that none was lined up before the film’s completion and all mentions of a US release end around the time of the film’s premiere.

Lastly, how does this delay benefit the studio that produced it? Not being in the US market until now will undoubtedly have hurt their revenues, and not just in the obvious ways. Yup, CGI filmmaking technology continues to develop a rapid pace, and a film released last year (let alone more than a year ago) is going to look outdated no matter how well it was made. By releasing so long after its production, it will run the risk of appearing to those unfamiliar with it (read: the general public) as an inferior, cheaper production than it really is. All told, it hurts the studio’s chances and opportunities for creating another feature film.

How To Ensure It Doesn’t Happen Again

Europe remains a productive creator of animation (both theatrical and otherwise), but I fear that in the case of A Monster in Paris, not enough effort was put into making the film available in other parts of the world. That’s not to say they didn’t try; the film was lip-synched to the English script, not the French one, but of course that won’t bring in revenue on its own.

The US market is massive, and complicated to boot. Unfortunately it is also dominated by a few large chains; chains that are cozy with the large US studios and would far rather show a film from one of those than a foreign, independent one. GKids has so many issues with them, that they almost always avoid them; favouring independent cinemas instead.

This situation is where a service like Tugg would come in useful, allowing independent players the ability to reach mainstream audiences without the cost of a traditional blanket marketing campaign.

Until then, April can’t come soon enough.

Would you have seen A Monster in Paris in the cinema in the US? Why or why not? Let us know below!

The Top 10 Animated Movies on DVD of 2012

I published this list last year too so was curious to see if there was any dramatic shifts in animated tastes in the previous 12 months. (Personally, I think we’ve seen a sizable overall improvement.) Like last year, the ranking is based on Amazon.com and is only for 2012 releases (or films receiving their first releases in 2012). See if you can spot any surprise!

 10. Arthur Christmas

Amazon_Arthur Christmas

9. Monster High: Ghouls Rule

 Amazon_Monster High

8. The Original Christmas Classics Gift Set

Amazon_Christmas Classics

 

7. Barbie: The Princess and the Popstar

Amazon_Barbie Popstar 6. Cinderella

 Amazon_Cinderella

5. The Lorax

 Amazon_The Lorax

4. Secret of the Wings

Amazon_Secret of the Wings

 3. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

 

Amazon_Madagascar 3

 2. Ice Age: Continental Drift

 

Amazon_Continental Drift

And the no. 1 animated film DVD of 2012 is….Brave

Amazon_Brave

Amazon’s Misguided Pricing Policy For Cartoons

The other day, I decided to get the Adventure Time Season 1 DVD. Yeah, I know what I said, but lacking suitable alternatives meant that I’m left with little choice. In the course of browsing to purchase it, I was struck by Amazon’s misguided pricing policy when it comes to cartoons. See the screenshot below:

See something kinda funny there? Yup, why buy the digital version for more than it cost for the physical discs! That simply can’t make any sense, can it? I mean for one, DVDs have to be made, shipped to Amazon, stored and then shipped to me. The digital copy gets uploaded to their servers once and then gets streamed/downloaded as necessary. The worst part about that? I’m paying half the delivery cost; the bandwidth!

Now someone is apt to say that with the digital copy, I can watch it on multiple devices and in multiple locations but of course DVDs are easy to rip and once they are, they are just as portable, if not more so due to the DRM on Amazon’s digital files.

So I was curious, my interest was decidedly piqued; were other cartoon series’ priced similarly or was this just a naked attempt to cash in on Adventure Times success? Let’s have a look-see.

Here’s a few of the better deals:

And here’s a few of the more egregious ones:

It should be noted that The Hub has no series’ on DVD in their entirety yet and the Disney Channel is sticking firmly with DVD for now. I also left out some shows like Avatar: the Last Airbender and Rocko’s Modern Life because they are available on Netflix and Amazon’s own streaming service for free.

So who’s losing out here? Is it Amazon because they’re selling less digital versions? Hardly, you can be sure those digital sales are almost 100% profit for them. Do studios lose? Again, not likely. They make a profit on the DVDs at those prices so you can be sure they make a profit once they cut out the manufacturing and distribution and whack up the price.

So if they don’t lose, then who does?

Us consumers obviously! And sadly, they way things are going, those DVD sets will start to go away and you can be sure that those digital prices are not going to budge one bit.

Criminal Enterprise or Under-served DVD Market?

Often the scourge of the entertainment industry, so-called “pirates” are often singled out as the single greatest threat to its very survival. The usual brush used to tar them paints them as high-level criminal enterprises with highly sophisticated money-laundering operations and connections to real criminal activities such as drug running and prostitution. Back in the day, they mainly produced counterfeit DVDs and video tapes but have since moved into cyberspace and make use of zombie computers to support their networks.

All this ties into today’s post insofar that the decline of DVDs as a medium for content distribution has also meant a decline for these enterprises. Much can be said for the move into cyberspace but many a fan knows the difference between, say, The Pirate Bay and a dodgy website crammed with ads and a suspect video player requesting you download “special” codecs in order for it to run. This is a lesson I saw my brother learn the hard way with approximately 8 hours of his life that he’ll never get back spent cleaning up the resulting mess.

Yet people continue to buy DVDs. My theory is that streaming works fine for people who simply want to see something, but when it comes down to the stuff they really like, the concept of ownership is very hard to substitute. With that in mind, TV shows and films continue to come out on shiny plastic discs for people to watch at their leisure. Which leads us to the impetus for today’s post:

Yes, this is the entire series of Avatar: The Last Airbender available in a complete boxset. Now most American fans will have their suspicions immediately aroused because they know that the series never came out as a single boxset; only as three separate “books”. This is all before you notice the non-latin text adorning the back cover or the notable lack of a Nickelodeon logo.

This boxset retails for $30 on eBay (no, I won’t link) whereas the official season sets retail for about $30 each. That’s a huge difference in price. Where does that difference come from and why does that matter?

The first thing the studio will say is that these DVDs don’t include the cost of the show. That is true, but the way networks and media companies are structured, that’s only the half truth. The cost of the show is borne by the network itself, who then license it to their home video arms for DVD distribution. Those licensing costs aren’t cheap and make up a decent proportion of the official sale price. Second is the fact that this boxset is being sold direct from the far east, also the point of manufacture. There is no middlemen a la distributors or the distribution arm of Viacom, another source of expense as they take their cut. Lastly is the retailer themselves. Amazon knocks about $9 off the list price which in essence represents the extra efficiency they’ve managed to squeeze out through their distribution and sales systems. Anyone else (traditional retail outlets included) will absolutely stick to the $39.95 retail price because anything lower will eat into their profit margin.

Now you could argue that these knock-offs are missing the special features like making-of videos, commentaries etc etc. but they are simply the icing on the cake for most fans and die-hards. Would the average consumer be willing to trade off the loss of the extra features for a 66% discount? I’d hazard a guess that most would.

So in reality, these knock-off DVDs are less of a representation of criminal enterprise as they are an under-served market at the hands of inefficient interests. Nickelodeon could no doubt sell a series boxset for $30, if it wanted to. However with so many fingers in the pie from manufacturers to distributors to retailers, there are an awful lot of vested interests who would rather see high-priced individual boxsets that prop them up rather than a product in the consumers best interests. Much the same in how Maryland vineyards can’t sell their products online because distributors put up a political fight to keep their 35% take.

So where does that leave the above boxsets on sale today? In a gray area unfortunately. Yes they are for sale and do represent good value, but they are unofficial. Money generated from their sale (and you can guarantee that there are profits being made) are not flowing back to the rightful people or corporations, regardless of the political stance you take on content and copyright. That is clearly not right or fair, but then neither is the rigid, inflexible nature the DVD market and requisite distribution operations.

Animation could benefit greatly if superb series such as Avatar were allowed to be sold at the level that the market demands. A lot of free-wheeling economics I know, but if you thought the series was popular now, how much more popular would it be if a lot more people could own and experience the show that they love.

While it’s easy to dismiss all fans as freeloaders, you’ll be glad to know that on the reddit thread discussing the set, the original poster was actually admonished for buying the set, and fans went even further to severely downvote the post with a link to where they bought it. So it’s not simply a case of fans willing to break the rules for a cheap deal, they really do care about the show and do prefer to go through official channels. One post even pointed out that simply downloading bittorrent files caused less damage to the creators than buying actual, physical discs from shady overseas operations.

All in all, a tough case to analyse and an even tougher one to rationalise. Fans should be catered to, and clearly barring the unnecessary costs imposed by the network and distribution channels, someone has found a way to profitably sell DVDs for far less. Fans would benefit and clearly Nickelodeon would benefit too, however in this case, they receive not even a penny. Sure it’s breaking the rules, but it’s a lost sale in the real sense, and any businessman worth his salt hates to see money pass him by because of his own actions.

The Adventure Time Season 1 DVD: Already Past Its Sell-By Date?

Finally, after 652 days (or 1 year, 9 months and 13days), the Adventure Time Season 1 DVD will be released on July 10th, 2012. While this is good news, is the idea of DVD boxset already past its sell-by date?

First though, a clarification; I ‘m not referring to the content. We all know Adventure Time is awesome and has maintained a great level of success since its debut. No, I’m talking about the very notion of a DVD boxset itself, and in this case, the almost egregious delay between the end of the 1st season and this release.

Oh sure, we’ve had the odd DVD featuring a handful of episodes, but we’ve had to wait well over a year for the complete boxset. Why is this so? The answer is as maddingly simple as it is annoying, release windows.

Release windows: wherin studios/networks attempt to extract the maximum revenue from one source before permitting another one to supplant it. Much the same as why DVDs must come out after the theatrical run, DVDs of TV shows are only permitted to be sold well after the network has eeked all the ad revenue it can from the season.

That’s not to say the episodes won’t be broadcast, they will, but they won’t command near as much revenue in the perpetual reruns that they do when they fresh. Hence the lag, which persists despite the fact that two additional seasons have been broadcast since and the 4th began last night.

So that’s left me asking, just why do season boxsets continue to exist, and why, oh why, has the idea of a delay not been beaten to a pulp by now?

Consider the following points:

  • Internet streaming is on the rise (Cartoon Network themselves stream the latest episodes)
  • As a sub-point, the incredibly internet-savvy generation that are precisely whom Cartoon Network are targeting have probably already downloaded the torrents already (as if the fact of Frederator leveraging the internet as a promotional tool isn’t an indication enough of this already)
  • Boxsets are costly to make and distribute. I’d wager the profit margin on DVDs isn’t near as high as it was)
  • TV shows depend on regular viewship. Leaving more casual fans in the cold causes them to move onto other things as they are starved for new episodes.
  • Just think, all this time, Cartoon Network could have been making even more money through boxset sales. Advertising revenue is one thing, but it doesn’t evaporate when boxsets are released.

Now in fairness, a year and some change isn’t too bad. Some series have to wait much longer. Some are never released at all, destined to languish in the archives forever.

Thankully though, the rise of the internet and its associated services like Netflix have meant that TV shows are making it online quicker than ever before (Portlandia comes to mind, as does Futurama). Animated shows deserve similar treatment, not being trotted out over a year after the iron was struck.

The Adventure Time Season 1 DVD boxset is the last of a dying breed. I’m willing to wager that we won’t see a fourth season boxset come 2014.

My Life as a Teenage Robot Now on DVD!

All three seasons of one of the most underrated cartoons of the last decade are now on DVD through Amazon. At $19.99, they aren’t the cheapest, but seeing as this show is well overdue for a release and that DVD is in the twilight years of its existence, you should consider it a worthwhile investment.

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

The Top 10 Animated Movies on DVD of 2011

It’s that time of year again, when everyone hauls out their “best of” lists that are always subjective and no-one ever really agrees on anyway. Well, being the objective, engineering type, I’ve decided instead to use Amazon.com’s sales as a guide to how animated films have fared this year.

To clarify, this list is just DVD sales and is sorted after doing a search for “animation” in the Movies & TV department and is also for films that are dated as being released in 2011, hence there are some films that while released theatrically in 2010, did not come out on DVD until 2011.

So without further adieu, here’s the top 10 animated films of 2011 according to Amazon.com (backwards of course):

10. LEGO: The Adventures of Clutch Powers

9. Gnomeo & Juliet

8. Barbie in a Mermaid Tale

7. Megamind (single disc edition)

6. Rango

5. Winnie the Pooh

4. Tangled

3. Rio

2. The Smurfs

And number 1, which you could probably have guessed anyway is…

Cars 2! (which must be selling like hotcakes; $19.73 for a single disc, yikes!)

Four Reasons to Demolish The Disney Vault

 Via: The Orlando Sentinel

 The “Disney Vault” is the term used by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment for its policy of putting home video releases of Walt Disney Animation Studio‘s animated features on moratorium. Each Disney film is available for purchase for a limited time, after which it is put “in the vault” and not made available in stores for several years until it is once again released.

So says Wikipedia.

We all know about the Vault. It’s pretty much been around as long as I’ve been alive, although the Wikipedia article feels it goes all the way back to when Snow White was re-released.

The thing is, in the 21st century, is the Vault even relevant? Here’s a few reasons why it isn’t.

1. DVDs outlive VHS tapes

Yes, back in the day, you bought movies on real tapes that you had to rewind if you wanted to watch again. What everyone seems to have overlooked since the advent of DVDs is that tapes wore out and lost quality the more they were played. DVDs can be played “forever” without any degradation. The end result? The second-hand market for DVDs is much stronger than for tapes and sll those copies of Vault films that are lying around in empty nests have a habit of making it onto eBay.

2. The Vault Doesn’t Make The Films Any More Valuable

Think about it. If you lock a film away for a number of years, does that make it any more valuable? Of course not! Less people can watch it an appreciate it. Right? So if you had to make a decision, would you try and keep a film locked up as much as possible or try and get as many people to see it as possible? Exactly! You’d want the latter so you could sell more merchandise!

3. If You Broadcast The Films On TV, Doesn’t That Make The Vault Moot?

For this one, we have to assume that the studio isn’t attempting to stop people from seeing the films, just from “owning” them. Why? They broadcast the vaulted films almost constantly. You couldn’t find Aladdin on DVD for love nor money but you could easily throw on [shiver] ABC Family and see it being broadcast. The same goes for Snow White, which was supposedly in the Vault until recently but was broadcast last Christmas! Now if that doesn’t send confusing signals, I don’t know what does.

4. The Obvious Reason

Legality aside, the commercial reasons for locking up content are becoming increasingly irrelevant. If I can’t find something in the shop (or online through legal avenues), what is stopping me from wandering over to the bittorrents. My conscience? Oh sure, Disney would like to believe that Jiminy Cricket is sitting on your shoulder telling you no to “pirate” that copy of Pinocchio, but the reality is that he’s just not there for a lot of folks.

Ever growing numbers of internet-native kids are growing up with the notion that all forms of entertainment come from the internet. If they’re led to believe by just about everyone that they can get whatever they want whenever they want it, why should they think they have to wait around for years for something to be “released from the Vault”.

The answer is, they won’t and Disney will be all the poorer for it.

Conclusion

Disney really ought to re-think the limited-release strategy that they’ve branded as the Disney Vault. In this day and age you can’t help but feel its self-defeating on a number of levels and besides, if people want to see the content, they will see it regardless.

Why The Tangled DVD Is A Waste Of Your Money

Via: Amazon.com

It’s not secret I like Tangled. It’s fun and although the story and characters are slightly less than mirror-polished, it’s an engaging film that manages to astound with it’s visuals, as Jim Hull managed to put it on twitter:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/jameshull/status/54014060982841344″]

It’s true, the visuals are stunning and its the main reason I like the film. However, I am one of those folks that has an old-style TV. You know the ones, with a square screen and that take up as much space in the living room as an elephant. Am I behind the times? Yes, I am and I realise it. However for me, if it came down to it, I would rather spend the couple of hundred dollars on a flight to Ireland than a new TV. It’s not that I don’t like watching the boob tube [snicker], it’s just how I prioritize things.

Despite the fact that I like the movie, I was disappointed by the Tangled DVD. The only extras included on the disc are some original “storybook” version of the film’s opening and a countdown of films that makes Tangled the (supposed) 50th feature released by Disney.

Here’s my problem, and it’s likely to be your problem too. Why the heck would you pay $14.99 for a DVD with basically just the film on it? If you’re a truly insane or disadvantaged in who supplies your DVDs, you would have to pay the $29.99 that Disney recommends!

First of all, $14.99 is expensive, even for a DVD (when stores can sell CDs profitably for half the price, you know there’s something up). The extras included were and are available online so you do not gain anything by having the DVD. The ultimate insult is that for an extra fiver on Amazon.com, you can get the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack but that is a matter of economics and I’m sure most people plumped for that version despite the fact that it offers only a few more extras and even then only on the Blu-Ray disc, the DVD is exactly the same as the stand-alone version.

So ask yourself: “why should I pay money for a plastic disc with just the movie on it? Why not save my money and download it from the internet? It’s not like there’s a lack of choice there”:

Snapshot of just some of the torrents available out there.

I do not advocate downloading films from the internet. The practice is quote/unquote “illegal” and if the MPAA thinks they’ve caught you, it can be a legal nightmare trying to get it sorted out. If you have ethical feels about it, there are always plenty of free (as in speech) and public domain films out there just gagging for your attention.

The point is, why on earth would I fork over a pile of money for something I can just download from the internet (legality aside)? It doesn’t make any sense to sell films like that any more because there is absolutely no incentive to the public to buy the film. If it came with some kind of extra that I could not download form the internet (read: a physical item) than there is a chance that people would be much more likely to purchase it.

I think that’s something that content producers cannot get their heads around. People no longer consider content a physical good whose reproduction can be controlled. People today (myself included) generally assume that if we can get it from the internet, then it probably should be free (there’s an economics background to this that can wait for another day, but trust me in the meantime).

Just to add insult in injury, there was a time when DVDs came stuffed to the gills with extra features. Since the introduction of Blu-Ray, we’ve seen those features gradually get pulled as the studios have attempted to incite use to get Blu-Rays instead. Unfortunately a new HD TV is a heck of a lot of money to spend and a few extras that I used to be able to get aren’t going to be the deal-breaker for me.

With less features on the DVD and with a nominal difference in price, why the heck would I buy the single DVD? If I just want to see the film, there is a heck of a lot of reasons why I should just go and download it or watch it through other means and I’m pretty sure that’s what plenty of folks are doing to the detriment of the studio and the artist who work in the industry.

 

Fantasia coming to DVD and Blu-Ray Later This Year

Image via dvdizzy.com

Finally, a decent release for one of the greatest animated films to ever come out of the Disney Studio. Every animation fan should own a copy, especially when it comes in both DVD and Blu-Ray versions.

It can be pre-ordered over on Amazon.com with a release date of November this year.