blockbuster video press release


Blockbuster Brings in More Widescreen
Posted: May 7, 2003

Reversing a previous policy, Blockbuster is giving preference to widescreen editions over full-frame presentations when studios offer them in separate editions on disc.

"The policy change, made at the beginning of the year, was due to demand from customers, who are becoming more accustomed to the black bars at the top and bottom of the widescreen image," said Blake Lugash, spokesman for the Dallas-based chain.

"We made a decision to purchase the majority of titles we bring in on DVD in the widescreen format," he said. "We try to follow our customer preferences. As DVD becomes increasingly popular, they become more familiar with the features and with the benefits of letterboxing. They've learned it's a superior format to full-frame." That familiarity with letterboxing hasn't come just from DVD, he noted.

"Customers are much more familiar with the letterbox format, even through broadcast television," he said, citing such popular shows as "The West Wing," "E.R." and other network and cable TV shows that are letterboxed.

"It's not as unfamiliar to our customers as it used to be," Lugash said.

The chain, however, continues to order family and kids' titles in full-frame, he said. "We find that families and children still prefer to see those types of movies in full-frame," he said, adding that chain executives would like the studios regularly to offer both on a single disc rather than in separate SKUs.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and MGM Home Entertainment often offer both full-frame and widescreen on one disc. Other studios, such as Universal Studios Home Video, have said they release their extras-laden special editions in separate SKUs because there is not enough room on the disc to include both versions.

Prior to this, Blockbuster gave preference to full-frame editions when both were available. For instance, in 2001 the chain stocked only the full-frame edition of Universal's The Mummy Returns, citing customer preference for cropped or pan-and-scan movies. DVD gurus, such as the online Home Theater Forum's Ron Epstein, were none too happy (VSM, Oct. 14-20, 2001).

Epstein, co-founder and co-owner of Forum, was elated with Blockbuster's change of mind, as were many Forum members who posted comments about the chain's new policy. Epstein hopes mass merchants such as Wal-Mart will follow suit.

"Overall, I'm ecstatic. This is good news," he said. "All you need is someone like Blockbuster to say something like that. They've got a huge chunk of the rental market, and for them to come out and say that customers are saying they want widescreen over full-frame, that's a pretty bold statement."

Epstein took exception with Blockbuster's contention that youngsters prefer full-frame presentations, saying that the Forum's own surveys show that kids "don't mind" letterboxing.

Still, the mass consumer appears to be savvier about the benefits of widescreen.

"It seems like the public is being educated on their own, either reading forums like ours or becoming aware that they're seeing more of the picture, even if it doesn't fill up the screen," Epstein said.