Warner Bros. Unlocks Its Vault of Old Movies with Warner Archive

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Movie companies are always looking for ways to leverage the many decades of classic and award-winning films buried deep in their archives, and where once cinemaphiles hopes all those titles would be published on DVD, many important films still remain out of print because the studios can’t justify the cost of restoring, mastering, and publishing them in the new media format. However, if you take the costs of DVD production and retail distribution out of the equation, things can be a little different…and to that end Warner Bros. has launched Warner Archive.

Warner Archive currently features about 150 films ranging from 1980’s teen comedies to classics from the silent era: and they’re available for $19.99 for a made-to-order DVD or $14.99 for a downloadable version. Warner Bros. plans to add more films to the roster, including titles from the almost 7,000 films acquired when Time Warner bought Ted Turner’s collection of films from MGM’s archive; the company expects about 20 new titles will be added every month. Downloadable movies are protected with Windows Media DRM and require Windows XP SP2 or newer.

Warner Bros. is hailing the Warner Archive as the first move of its kind from a major studio, and industry watchers generally hail the move is an inexpensive way for Warner Bros. to generate some revenue from its library content. Studios are increasingly looking for new ways to generate revenue from their movies as economic hard times force consumers to cut back on discretionary spending on DVDS. Home video industry analysts have also pointed to a growing saturation for DVDs in the home video market, with consumers becoming pickier about what DVDs they will buy and retailers cutting back on DVD shelf space.

In 2008, retail spending on DVDs fell by about 7 percent to $21.6 billion, according to the industry-sponsored Digital Entertainment Group. Blu-ray sales for 2008 were almost triple 2007 levels at $750 million, but Blu-ray didn’t even represent 3.5 percent of on-disc movie sales during 2008.