DVD & Blu-ray Bonus — Going, going…gone?

The occasion of our latest Director’s Commentary recording session prompts a question: Are ‘bonus’ features required or optional for a killer DVD or Blu-ray Disc release? Will they eventually disappear from discs entirely? For me, the answer is simple. ‘Bonus’ is what makes a disc release special. I’m always a little frustrated, as are others, by the rental ‘special’ versions which don’t have any ‘bonus’ at all or block it. In a world in which disc sales are steadily decreasing, nothing provides a more compelling reason to buy a disc than a loaded ‘bonus’ menu. Collector’s sets, for example, always have bonus included with them, thus it’s no surprise that I have more than a few box sets of TV shows and film series on my shelf. My favorites? Deleted scenes and blooper reels rank up toward the top of my list, followed closely by commentaries. As a long-time film buff, being able to climb into the mind of a director, producer, writer or actor to see what they intended for a scene — it’s the best film school in the world. And best of all, it’s available in my own living room. And who doesn’t like blooper reels? I remember speaking with home entertainment executives a few years back who revealed that blooper reels were the number one most popular bonus item. Seeing actors and crew having a bit of fun on set is always welcome and, more often than not, hilarious. The cinephiles at www.dvdsworthwatching.com see it the same way: More and more, I don’t buy DVDs unless they provide substantial bonuses. …I want studios to create and include that material to make it worthwhile for me to own that movie…If not, everyone loses out. The customer doesn’t get the benefit of added information from sources with substantial knowledge. The studio doesn’t sell as many discs as they could have.” When DVD debuted, the whole concept of ‘bonus’ took a huge leap forward from what was available during the days of VHS, pushed by “…Marketers at the studios [who] were convinced that consumers would pay a higher price point for the “collector’s edition” of certain collectible franchises either for themselves or as gifts (esp. @ Christmas) and they had the uplift and margins to prove it.” The strategy worked through the heyday of DVD and into the age of Blu-ray. The inclusion of such features moved any title in the ‘premium’ category’ and continues to do so. Wandering through message boards on home entertainment fan sites shows that the majority of the home audience is still interested in bonus…but they’re also concerned about quality. Their expectations have, naturally, risen since the early days of DVD. More than a couple studios have experimented with new technologies to address this interest, combining BD-Live with ‘second screen experiences’ for movies like The Avengers and Bambi. The disc-based experience becomes ever richer and more intriguing. I’ll be interested in seeing more titles, studios and authoring houses innovate in this area. ‘Bonus’ still provides an effective way to ‘wow’ fans, retain interest and encourage sales and it doesn’t have to be hugely expensive or terribly complex. Even a blooper reel or commentary can make a disc a ‘keeper’ for fans, earning that coveted place on the entertainment center shelf. Let’s hope that studios, distributors and filmmakers don’t give up on it.

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