The once-explosive growth in DVDs has slowed to a trickle, but studio executives have found a bright spot on the slightly seamy side of the market. Unrated DVDs, those that contain some additional raunchy humor, a few too-hot-for-the-multiplex scenes and other new material are exponentially outselling the original versions, especially when they're released side-by-side.
The unrated DVDs have also given studios a solid marketing hook as upcoming titles like "Wedding Crashers: Uncorked" and the "unrated, uninhibited and longer lasting" version of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" could help regain some lost ground in a sluggish box-office year.
"The unrated version [of a given movie] will outperform the regular one, sometimes making up 70% to 90% of the total volume," said Matt Lasorsa, exec VP-marketing at New Line Home Entertainment. "It has tremendous appeal for the consumer."
After years of double-digit growth, the home-entertainment market, at just more than $11 billion in the first half, was up only about 1% during that period, according to trade publication DVD Exclusive. Industry watchers expect the market will grow by only about 3% by year's end, factoring in fourth-quarter buying of summer hits such as "Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith."
Many films continue to better their box office, sometimes doubling or tripling that figure, when they're released on DVD. When an unrated version is released simultaneously with a feature version, the edgier one sells significantly more units. In some cases, like "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," the "extreme unrated" version made up 85% of the title's total sales. The "uncensored and unrated" cut of Paramount's "Team America: World Police," with its extended and much-discussed puppet love scene, sold 89% of the title's total haul.
"The talk value helped our marketing, and we knew we were giving consumers something they couldn't see anywhere else," said Chris Saito, VP-Paramount Home Entertainment.
In general, fans assume they're getting a wilder cut of the movie. That's more likely to be the case with a PG-13 film, executives said, with some scenes restored in an unrated version that were clipped to avoid the tougher-to-market R-rating. For R-rated films, an unrated version will have more of the same kind of content but often with spicier parts left in.
"There's a titillation factor," said Steve Feldstein, senior VP at Fox Home Entertainment. "The promise is it's edgier, sexier, more insider than what people saw in theaters."
Studios are stepping up the number of versions they release on any given title, said Scott Hettrick, editor of DVD Exclusive, with director's cuts, special editions, wide-screen and collectors versions crowding the market. "It gives them another hook to try to draw in the consumer," he said. "And it gives them more shelf space at retail, which bolsters awareness."
Retailers are deciding on a case-by-case basis whether they'll stock unrated DVDs, though stores like Best Buy and Tower jumped in early. Wal-Mart, once a holdout, has now begun selling the titles, but not until after it has reviewed the additional material. Studio marketers said the added scenes, if they had gone through the Motion Picture Association of America screening process, would have received an R-rating. MPAA officials have said they have no problem with unrated DVDs, as long as they are labeled to reflect the content.
The unrated formula works well for horror, given the legions of hard-core fans. Lions Gate just released the "uncut edition" of "Saw," a gory murder movie that made a whopping $102 million worldwide on a $1.2 million production budget. Even TV shows, a once-hot DVD category that's beginning to cool, have started releasing more unrated versions, restoring dialogue, scenes and shots that didn't pass muster with networks. After "Las Vegas: Season One Uncut and Uncensored" sold well, the producers put together a bonus disc for season two's DVD package called "What Happened in Vegas Didn't Stay in Vegas." The blooper reel contains some racy bits and salty language that didn't air on NBC.