Magazine article Variety

Vote-Loss Fear Stalls Screener Tech Shift

Magazine article Variety

Vote-Loss Fear Stalls Screener Tech Shift

Article excerpt

IN HOLLYWOOD, a frenzied competition for attention begins every fall. That's when studios start submitting films for awards consideration. Each studio wants its movies to touch as many critics, guild members and Academy members as possible.

Small wonder: The more voters who see a film, the better its chances of winning a trophy at one of the many January and February awards shows - perhaps even landing the most coveted prize of all: an Oscar.

To get their awards contenders seen, studios send out DVD screeners of movies that in many cases have not yet been released in theaters. That's where problems begin - issues of cost and, more important, piracy. The DVDs are protected by the most sophisticated security technology money can buy. Yet every year, almost the moment screeners are sent, illegal copies wind up online.

"This is something every studio has to deal with," says the person responsible for organizing awards screeners at a top distributor, who spoke with Variety on condition of anonymity. "No matter how much you try to secure your product, if you're sending out a movie, it will leak online."

The problem is the DVD itself: It can get lost or stolen or vanish. That's why many are urging studios to forgo DVDs and instead send links to eScreeners - digital copies accessible online via password-protected streaming links. eScreeners are safer from piracy and vastly less expensive.

But studios are hesitant to switch.

On the face of it, switching to digital would seem an obvious choice. DVD screeners are enormously costly and challenging: Studios are obliged to mail out upwards of 70,000 screeners per year per movie - and as membership in the guilds and the Academy increases, that number will rise. Between producing the discs, constructing the packaging, fulfilling the orders, shelling out for shipping (often overnight express) and paying for the expensive watermarking process that aims to protect against piracy, the cost can be as high as $35 per screener.

"It's lots and lots of money," another studio rep explained offthe record. "Even un-watermarked movies sent via USPS ground mail are a six-figure spend."

And with that many physical DVDs floating around, it's easy for one to end → up in the wrong hands. "Think about how many discs are sitting on an agent's desk waiting for an actor to pick them up," says another distributor. …

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