Proceed to Check-Out: The Proliferation and Primacy of DVD Content
n January 21, 1968 Disney telecast a special event from its Anaheim-based theme park,
Disneyland, to viewers across the nation. Marcia Miner, official ambassador of Mickey-dom, hosted the program, called “Disneyland from The Pirates of the Caribbean to The World of Tomorrow,” an emporium of Walt’s latest Imagineering, with behind-the-scenes looks at the painstaking realization of these two “revolutionary” theme park attractions. Essentially a video brochure (or inflated advertisement), combined, in Disney’s indelible manner, with an air of newsworthiness sustained by documentary-style presentation, the program represents an early effort at media convergence: the culling of team Disney—its films, merchandise, theme parks, etc.—within a television broadcast, traverses the media landscape in “one giant leap,” in the spirit of the Space Age fervency offered to TV audiences by Neil Armstrong the following year. Culture, nevertheless, extirpated the natural macro-universe in favor of a silicon micro version fewer than two decades later; yet Disney today seems vindicated, as the Age of Information collides its media together with as much frequency as the prolific matter/antimatter pairs of a Space Age—an apt image for the evolving concept of media convergence. “Convergence” has been a watchword in media camps for many years now, though its practical success, as such theorists as Anna Everett and John T. Caldwell have argued, has been marginal at best. However, the ever-emerging “new media” sectors—including the web, wireless peripherals, blogs, DVD, video games—have inspired fresh convergence ventures attempting to synergize these diverse platforms into entertaining and profitable forms. As a result, the notion of convergence continues to be interwoven with the ideal of a dawning “media future.” I therefore use “convergence” in this paper as a term for the imbrication of new media in today’s conglomerate-dominated system. However, I am also mindful that it is an industry-invented term—a euphemism for the oligopoly and hyperbole of the medium-bending capability of such media. Despite the shortcomings of some of the industry’s recent efforts (especially “crossover” TV programming – see John T. Caldwell’s article cited below), one new media format in particular, the DVD, has begun to show success on the frontiers of convergence, especially in fusing itself with the web. The Disney example, for instance, was not procured through tedious browsing through television archives. Instead, Disney resuscitated the featurette as added content
on its December 2004 “2-Disc Collector’s Edition” release of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The film, based on an amusement ride (a phenomenon of aesthetic and even philosophical proportions itself), entertains many of new media’s incarnations over its two disks. This particular morsel from the sixties offers a surreal indication of the power of convergence media: amusement park rides, telecasts (from then or now), interactive web-based menu systems, and a digital video presentation. And the DVD manages to integrate—almost seamlessly—this array of content. The proliferation of DVD content, in particular, displays the attempts of media conglomerates to develop DVD as an interactive and convergence-minded home viewing experience. Utilizing both “environmental” and “economic” convergence, the DVD medium entices the viewer to “check out” various features and extras over the breadth of a disk, and then encourages the viewer to proceed to “check-out” (i.e., purchase) with various brand-related merchandise in tow. Hence, DVD content has emerged as a commodification of a film text—an outlet for brand cultivation—under the aegis of interactivity and convergence. For today’s most popular home viewing medium, this strikes some theoretical chords that I wish to examine in this paper. I will begin by underscoring the interactivity of DVD disks by examining the praxes of programming and content; I will then examine the increasing trend of the “PC Friendly” DVD, which demonstrates the potential clout of DVDs in the e-commerce sector. It is, furthermore, my conviction that it is ultimately important to keep sight of the movies—that is, to remember that there are film texts among the many-layered converge-agents of DVDs, especially as the films themselves are pushed to the periphery by incessant extras and bulging multi-disk epics. DVD content today is often colliding rather than converging with film texts, which calls scholars to analytical diligence and draws attention to the cataclysmic user-text shift in home viewing. In the words of Charmaine Gravning, product manager for Windows at Microsoft Corporation: “Gone are the days when you view a movie only once or twice. There’s always something new to check out” (NAPSA). For the major home distribution companies, some of whom hazarded significant capital on a young and untested medium, the reception of DVD has been a godsend. After a contentious nascence, the DVD gamble has paid off, to the tune of unrivaled sales for both software (DVDs themselves) and hardware (DVD players). DVD-video (a.k.a. digital video disk, digital versatile disk, but now an entity all to its own) was an impressive upgrade from the minimal VideoCD format, which allowed only seventy-four real-time minutes of play (hardly ideal for the 90minute threshold sometimes imposed on feature films). DVD converted time into capacity, following CD’s 640MB memory, cramming 1’s and 0’s into microscopic spirals with more proximity and depth than CD and then adding a second layer, so that DVD disks hold up to 8.5 gigabytes of information (Lake G: 7). High-Definition formats, which will be on the market soon, exceed even that figure: HD-DVD, which presently has the blessing of the DVD Forum (an industry-instigated effort to standardize DVD technology), holds up to 30GB; Blu-Ray, Disney and Sony’s favored child, holds up to 50GB (“Digital Video Disk”). DVD is a compression format, sometimes called “lossy,” since some of the picture and sound information must be sacrificed to accommodate a 135-minute film on one disk. The following, though, is an advantage of compression: where picture and sound terminate, space often remains (Lake G: 7). The DVD is roomy enough to hold supplementary content. Far from being wasteful and unresourceful, the motion picture industry sought to augment the home
viewing experience and attract sales—advantageously, one might add—by inventing a dictum that has evolved to deluging proportions today: volume equals content. Extra content, though, is not without precedent on older home-video formats. Disney patrons will recall the “special presentation” or “making-of” segment that followed several of its high-profile cartoon musicals in their 1990s releases. Likewise, in each re-released “Special Edition” Star Wars on VHS, the feature was preceded by a brief behind-the-scenes program with footage from the original filming and commentary on the 20-year face-lift of the special edition. These are only two of the many examples readily produced in correspondence with VHS features. The direct lineage of DVD content, however, hails from its quasi-digital forerunner, Laser Disk. Capable of secondary, even tertiary, audio tracks, the Laser Disk format revolutionized the first “Special Editions” as we know them today, utilizing unused space by offering an optional commentary track to run simultaneously with a given film. Voyager’s “Criterion Collection” pioneered the practice on its 1986 release of Citizen Kane with commentary by film historian Ron Haver. And at its apex, Laser Disk Special Editions and Box Sets were not radically different from today’s normal DVD releases. Tim Burton’s “Collector’s Edition” of Nightmare before Christmas, for instance, features a panorama of content (behindthe-scenes footage, production stills, etc.), the full appraisal of which requires hours of viewing beyond the film itself. Naturally, the emergence of DVD content is impossible without a “text,” the film itself, as an ontological cornerstone. DVD content is mostly designed and published by a postproduction team, though development today is sometimes concurrent with the production of a feature (and its release, as in the case of Peter Jackson’s King Kong and his Production Diaries DVD, is even known to precede that of its text), which further confuses that relationship. However, “content autonomy,” in a motion picture sense, will never truly exist, since, if DVD content is produced sans texts, it will no longer represent a filmic form. This is not to say that within the medium itself, content, though indebted to its text, cannot take precedence. The news media, for instance, which savors DVD interactivity, seems to subscribe to the new primacy of content: DVD reviews, common now across news outlets, often cite content volume as well as the post-auteur lease to “become the director” and other such film manipulations as judgments on DVD quality. Content as a selling point is logical from a company source perspective, too, since sheer volume is what distinguishes “regular editions” from their pricier “special edition” and “box set” counterparts. The function of DVD content as it relates to its text also deserves some brief words. Content can both immerse the viewer in the film text and act in the role of anthologizer. The Criterion Collection in particular has defined the standards of the latter. Complementing a film with historical and expository material, Criterion DVDs formulate an anthology of the film (much as critics and historians have done all along), thereby carrying DVDs from the realm of entertainment into that of historicity. It is not my claim that Criterion’s efforts disparage film texts or that DVD releases from other distribution companies do not perform a function similar to that of the anthology (since non-Criterion DVDs comprise my examples). However, I am arguing that DVD extras will begin to veer away from this “educational” model as content becomes a commodity—a tool that media conglomerates will exploit to further promote their brand. Today, content on a DVD disk is normal and expected, even on regular-release films. Hardly a film is released without menu options and a theatrical trailer or two, even from the
micro-distributing companies specializing in (sub) B-movie pictures. This is due in large part to the popular conception of DVD as an interactive medium. Triggered by Laser Disk experiments, DVD championed a home-viewing experience that is determined by the viewer. Unlike VHS, which relies on the insertion of a cassette and pressing the “play” button (until auto-play vitiated that guilty pleasure), DVD (in most cases) interrupts the “pre-play” and “play” continuum with a user-controlled interface, the main-menu. Inherent in interactivity, though, is the role of choice— a menu without an option or four is no menu at all, but an on-screen play button. Content, then, furnishes the permutations organizable and justified by menu interactivity. In other words, without content, DVD interactivity would be dully recursive (perhaps we could be treated to Nightmare before Christmas in different shades of blue). As such, DVD programming is becoming codified to complement and stress DVD content—and thus interactivity. “Just press play” defined VHS as a simple, automated home viewing format; which is threadbare from DVD’s perspective, whose interactivity amounts to a user-controlled matrix that resembles “click and go,” web-based ideology. I offer the web, therefore, especially the “cyberspace” moniker, as a foundational medium of DVD programming. Web pages are selfcontained opuses organized behind some fundamental impetus (news, sports, personal advertisement, or a favorite soap star). A film lends the DVD format that impetus, and designers forge on from there. Similarly, the web and DVD intersect on their chosen route to render a text toward interactive entertainment: the promotion of a virtual environment. As in cyberspace, DVD disks offer the viewer relative autonomy to navigate within the given content. In order to make navigation more entertaining and to eschew text-heavy lacuna, DVD designers (as web designers do) normally construct a sense of space that unifies the disk, drawing on the diegetic world of the film as a basis for leitmotif. Today, DVD designers seem to favor an intro piece, a kind of prelude, as the normative first-foot of that experience. Essentially a short digital overview of the film, the prelude is reminiscent of shockwave videos that precede web space home pages. As in holistic web environments (as well as virtual space in videogaming), the viewer is invited to be immersed in the film (DVD) experience. Another staple of extra content, the DVD "chapter" system is derived yet again from the Laser Disk format, though now with the added responsibility of environmental similitude. On many DVDs key nodes of the film are often graphically represented by thumbnail pictures, both static and animated, included as a segregated "film chapters" menu option. Rather than simple text, image thumbnails expand upon viewer immersion in the DVD-created world, incorporating actual film imagery into the motif (the Aladdin DVD examined below adds a scarab cursor, instrumentation of “A Whole New World,” arabesque image frames, and a desert backdrop to the mix). As a viewer browses through the "pages" of a film, visual markers expose narrative development and orient a viewer with touchstone moments, or at the very least, junctures of narratological salience. Stephen Mamber offers DVD chapters as naturally occurring examples of "narrative mapping," a technique he developed to "represent visually events that happen over time" (Mamber 145). Mamber proposes a snapshot of visual narrative in this essay—a panoptic, allinclusive image—as “a useful tool for dealing with complexity, ambiguity, density, and information overload” (Mamber 157). The technique delineates seismic shifts in shot as well as story development. However, there is also something less noble and pedagogical underpinning DVD "chaptering" than narrative mapping would suppose. Ostensibly, fractioning film texts benefits knowledgeable (read: repeat) viewers for quick-referencing purposes, saving unwanted minutes
of seeking with rewind/fast forward in order to relive and rejoice in specially endearing segments. A medium amicable to re-viewing, as the advent of home-viewing espoused from the first, DVD is typically modern when compared to a recyclable format such as VHS. Its pleasures are brief and available on-demand. In reality, episodic formats are the breadwinners of the digital age. It is commonly asserted that time has been fragmented over the course of history due to cultural strictures. In our viewing, too, we seek something more palatable to the taste of hyperspeed lifestyles, something, in fact, that will not fetter us for two hours at a time. Serialization is entirely true to digital form: it is open to revisiting, but in fixes short and exact. DVD chapters lend to the protracted film format the possibility of brevity by endowing the viewer with the authority to isolate the filmic moment. Likewise, DVD environments unfold to immerse the viewer in the content, but by transporting him or her through it at warp-speeds (we are one “click” away different DVD “locales”)—"super-scrolling" in web terms. And one is left to wonder if the film, by association, is vulnerable. To generalize about the praxes of added content and DVD environments, I will briefly examine Disney’s Platinum Edition of Aladdin. The disk opens astride one of the film’s famous “Arabian Nights,” during which we see the film’s title across the screen on the sands of the desert. A within-the-shot tilt then reveals two of the three environments available for exploration in the DVD: the Cave of Wonders and the Genie’s Lamp (the third is the diegetic city of Agrabah). It is important to note that once these kinds of environments are established, DVD designers adhere to them totally so as not to mar the immersion experience. In this particular DVD, backdrops and excerpts from the film’s score are consistent in all of the disk’s menus, even in the set-up menu, the only section on most DVDs that refers to an apparatus rather than films themselves. The layout of the content is then divided environmentally: in Agrabah, we are treated to regulars among DVD content—deleted scenes, audio commentary from filmmakers (here divided between filmmakers and animators), music videos, and the disk set-up option. Also DVD content thoroughfare, the making-of featurettes/documentaries are included in the “Cave of Wonders” environment on disc two. The disks are rounded out by several mini-games including the exploration of the remaining environment, the genie’s lamp, a “magic carpet ride” through the cumulative diegesis, and a fortune-telling game that returns us to Agrabah. Finally, the Aladdin DVD is also “PC Friendly” which means, in many cases, exclusive-to-your-PC content, though on this disk it only provides web links to various Disney resources (I will discuss the “PC Friendly” phenomenon later). Embedded, too, in the DVD’s interactive environment is the film text itself—and since DVD interactivity is reliant on content, it is highly appropriate to examine how DVDs integrate the film in such an environment. In the Aladdin DVD, and most DVDs in fact, the film gets top billing on the main menu (denoted by “play” here). Viewers also have the traditional option to “just press play” and forward to the feature. Furthermore, two-disk (plus) editions have sometimes separated the feature and commentary from the extra content, putting them on separate disks, though this is not standardized. Therefore, the films are certainly present in the DVD environment. But are they prevalent? One is inclined to think not, especially since the DVD environment was created to organize content. Skepticism persists too since media companies are becoming more and more prone to make certain that viewers do not simply ignore DVD content (by stressing its importance within a DVD), because it is the content, more than the film, that will optimize the medium’s profitability.
Overall, the application of an interactive web environment in DVD authoring recalls Anna Everett’s theory of “digitextuality.” As a broad concept, digitextuality “suggests a more utilitarian trope capable at once of describing and constructing a sense-making function for digital technology’s newer interactive protocols, aesthetic features, transmedia interfaces and end-user subject positions, in the context of traditional media antecedents” (Everett 6). Thus, digitextuality suggests cross-medium relationships between new media formats, which is plainly obvious in DVD design, and also references “old media” formats that have come before. In this spirit, Everett does not dispense with “old” views on the economics of the media. Instead, as products of a digitextual age, conglomerates and the theory of convergence remain susceptible to qualifications as “proconsumerist” or “procorporate”—and if I could add to that list, “profilmic”—a point that I will develop in the context of “PC Friendly” DVDs. DVD and new media are not without predecessors, as theories such as digitextuality have sought to explore. DVD design borrows heavily from web sources to create an environment of convergence. But economic convergence—a fiscal strategy more than an organic outcome of interactive media—is an appropriate topic as DVD begins to expand from web-based design to web-active design, that is, from offline digital media to online e-media. Convergence is economically feasible and profitable within a system that facilitates cooperation between media appendages, especially when each media source is contained within a parent company that mitigates risk over interrelated products. Companies who stand to gain the greatest in each instance of media convergence are those where each converge-agent is a filial partner, opting to establish the brand portfolio in new markets instead of challenging a “brand” with each individual product. Quite simply, the type of economy that encourages convergence (and its riskfree outcomes) is a conglomerate system where multifaceted businesses fall under one dominion. Simone Murray concisely describes the outcome: “a panoply of ostensibly competing products drives return on the conglomerate’s investments by recycling proprietary content across the gamut of company-controlled entertainment platforms” (416). It is no wonder, then, that the media industry, subject of several of the more recent mega-mergers, would promote convergence over its diverse products. I have shown that DVD incorporates elements of convergence through its design. However, DVD is increasingly becoming economically convergence-savvy in conjunction with its environmental homage to convergence—that is, DVD has begun to emulate the hand that feeds it, rapidly becoming a more “conglomerated” medium as content moves from your television to your computer. InterActual is the new name in DVD content. Bought by Sonic Solutions (a DVD authoring company) in 2004, InterActual provides media distributors with “PC Friendly” extras for DVD movies (hence, DVD-ROMS, the type of disk your computer reads) that include, most importantly, hotlinks to various movie-related web resources. Consumer research firm Centris, however, speculates that only 20-25% of users will access the extra DVD-ROM content—but Interactual, which now supports over five-hundred films from all of the media industry’s biggest names—and in 2003 supported 70% of the top-25 DVD releases—bets that “broadband DVD,” disks synergized with online content, will be the latest digital revolution (Saltzman E.3). Remunerating for the dot-com failure and recapturing the guttering dream of convergence might be sufficient to lure big media to the table. The first portion of this paper essentially atones for part of what has made DVD a popular phenomenon: the utilization of media convergence (a la digitextuality) as a tool to promote an interactive environmental. This, however, does not utilize the theory of convergence in all its moneymaking capacity. “Making-of” featurettes are (arguably) pleasant additions to a film text,
but they do not exploit the “brand” of a film to the limits of its marketing incarnations. Moreover, though repeat viewing is encouraged by extra content, repeat (and even habitual) purchasing of a conglomerate’s products would rely solely on DVD disk quality, which home audiences might equate more with the quality of an individual film rather than a company’s commitment quality DVD authoring. The online content furnished by InterActual, however, transports the consumer to an economically re-accessible plane (in the guise of the Internet) that, while baiting DVD viewers with the promise of more content, simultaneously lures them into further statistical (marketing) and consumerist enterprises. To be sure, the initial promise of content is upheld. Common among InterActual DVDs are features such as image galleries, exclusive commentary and documentaries, and even script and script development browsing. The Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban “2-Disc Widescreen Edition” DVD, for instance, offers a Hogwart’s Timeline with narrated on-screen text, a link to the FA Harry Potter video-game series website, and a link to the Harry Potter etrading card website (like baseball cards with web rewards instead of bubble gum). As opposed to content found elsewhere on the two Potter disks, these features expand the DVD viewing to the net where the opportunity to continue patronage is offered for modest prices. Only the Hogwarts timeline is an enclosed, “immersion” environment such as those enumerated in the first portion of the paper. The convergence revolution suggested by InterActual is realized in its DVD interface more than its promissory content, however. Accessing features like those in Harry Potter requires the installation of the InterActual Player, which shares the common attributes of other popular computer DVD programs on the market today, except that the movie controls interface (i.e., play, stop, rewind.) also incorporates links to various web resources (ostensibly to further the film experience). Installing the player is the only legal route to “unlock” the PC-only extra content; therefore the plunge is a highly lucrative one for a viewer. And for media conglomerates paired with InterActual, “unlocking” added content is lucrative too: the browser successfully opens the DVD market to an expansive, and previously remote, cash register. This calls on viewers’ ability to bilocate (surf the net while watching a film) and illustrates Sut Jhally and Bill Livant’s theory of “watching as working,” in that, according to Marc Andrejevic, “sites of consumption and labor are no longer distinct” (Andrejevic 99). Here, in an ideal act of economic convergence, I can buy a toy version of Harry’s wand as I watch him cast spells with it. The “DVD plus Internet” features available through the InterActual player effectively localize continued consumer practices with a company. Again, we can use the Harry Potter DVD as a model. The Harry Potter fan base is considerably large and devoted, with no prodding necessary from Warner Brothers. Guaranteed capital, however, is no excuse to eschew tapping a market. The links on the InterActual player include those to the official e-mailed newsletter (which in turn advertises other Warner Brothers theater releases as well as the Warner Brothers website, plus, in the 6/20/05 edition, includes a cross-promotion for Mattel’s “Scene It” board game), message boards (to further a sense of loyalty to the brand), special Harry Potter events, merchandise, and a link to the parent site (in this instance, “harrypotter.com,” which is really “harrypotter.warnerbros.com”). Once on the official website, the viewer is then a click away from other company brands and resources. Moreover, since the webpage is proprietary space, the company is unfettered to inseminate potential viewers (and thence “fans”) with first-looks at films of a similar fare and other apropos content while the DVD viewer surfs. For a company’s merchandising department, and for the management of enticing cross-product web offers and giveaways (e.g., free tickets to the next
WB film release), the schema is a blessing since it is flux-manageable and updatable and therefore never obsolete. As a result, web designers can even invoke the seasonal pining of its patrons: “Christmas at Hogwart’s” is an option that allows a fan to e-mail a Potter wish list to different parties. These are the types of instant features that the convergence of digital media and the web alone provides; and for media conglomerates, it is exactly the type of user flow that a convergence medium should promote. In the conglomerate media world, inserting a DVD disk is like logging-on to a home page—and any successful webmaster knows that once a consumer logs-on, cross-promotion is king. This, at least, was the theory behind the web portal debacle in the late 1990s. The universal web portal, a utopian vision for many conglomerates, saw its heyday when various media companies including NBC, Disney, and Time Warner purchased and invested heavily in several of these internet gateways. Originally conduits to advertisers’ web content, conglomerates tweaked portals so that its resources were directed to “third-party” sites that really emanated from within the company (the first-party). In his study of Disney’s failure with the “Go Network” portal, Jeffrey Lane Blevins accounts for several of the contributing factors to its collapse, two of which are an “excessive amount of cross-promotion and how the company mishandled the brand identity of its portal property” (Blevins 248). The “DVD portal,” I argue, is a more subtle recapitulation of Disney’s and other media conglomerates’ web portal efforts that is perhaps able to solve aspects of Blevins’ promotional dystopia. First, DVD’s correspondence with a film text relatively dissolves identity issues with regard to branding. Naomi Klein interprets branding as envisioning “a corporate mythology powerful enough to infuse meaning into…raw products just by signing its name” (Klein 22, quoted in Blevins). Film texts are similar: they hold sway over legions whose zealots are sometimes vast and often powerfully cultish, to the degree, in fact, that for the acolytes of films such as Star Wars, patronage becomes a way of living. In the purchasing of a DVD therefore, chiefly a “Special Edition” type DVD, a corporation has already anticipated your extended fealty to its “brand,” and therefore the portal to extended content and purchasing is logically brandbased. In other words, Lord of the Rings fans need not agonize that their portal will misdirect them to Raise Your Voice film content when they pop in their Special Edition disks: brand ambiguity is safe-locked with DVD portals. This is part of a larger tendency in the media industry to follow narrowcasting practices where e-commerce is involved. The nature of the electronic universe is close to unpredictable since access is open “via multiple channels, at any time of the day or night” and encourages constant “migration,” usually among diverse brands (Caldwell 136). The industry responded, visà-vis its web portals, by appropriating broadband Internet providers’ “walled-garden” programming strategies that “[attempt] to turn users of networked communications into customers of a proprietary environment” with techniques to deflate migration including “prohibiting customers from having a choice of providers, from accessing rival content, or from creating independent content” (Aufderheide 518). The “cross-promotional” overload within media conglomerate web portals was a byproduct of these practices—and the ultimate failure of those portals by this strong-arm approach was obvious juxtaposed with popular notions of the plasticity and self-expression inherent in democratically liberated net space. DVD, however, recasts the failed configuration of a web portal in order to suit and exploit a (self-manufacturing) niche audience. That a DVD browser narrowcasts, therefore, is pre-conditional. It is an outcome of the consensus between the consumer and producer at first purchase (Lord of the Rings vs. Raise Your Voice again). A DVD disk is, in itself, a “walled garden,” and though companies
might once again mismanage promotional content, this fact provides the opportunity to extend procorporate latitude beyond the limitations exposed by the dot-com collapse. Narrowcasting, too, is similar in principal to Mark Andrejevic’s version of e-commerce in that it represents “a particular form of subjectivity consonant with an emerging online economy: one that equates submission to surveillance with self-expression and self-knowledge” (Andrejevic 97). In this context, let us examine the terms InterActual lays before its costumers: I give InterActual Player permission to locally and anonymously collect and upload product usage and viewing behavior information. I understand that this information will be used and provided to third parties by InterActual for marketing purposes. A benefit to me is that as a result, the InterActual Player can personalize and enhance my entertainment experience (InterActual). InterActual seems to assume that its customers are familiar with the modern consumer-producer pact that “mass individuation” paradoxically relies on “willing submission to pervasive surveillance” and “[plugging]…vital statistics into a marketing algorithm” (Andrejevic 111-113). References to a permissive “Big Brother” society aside, a service such as InterActual garners vital information from the consumer, and enables him or her to continue purchasing through the viewer’s unwillingness to sacrifice the monad of self (i.e., the intrinsic consumer want of “enhanced personalization”). The ability to monitor an audience, according to Andrejevic, is a “crucial aspect of new media” (101), which InterActual successfully achieves. In summary, the dream of convergence that began to crumble with the failure of the dotcom explosion and web portals has been, in some ways, refigured in the DVD explosion. Disks such as Harry Potter are becoming PC and Internet Friendly (thanks to third-parties such as InterActual), not only expanding the scope of added content, but also priming digital video for economic convergence. DVD perpetuates the “walled-garden” theory of content that doomed web portals; however, the closed-text nature of the films DVD represents make directed, nonperipheral surfing logical and less imperious. Armed with successful branding solutions and a profitable (if still problematic) convergence ideology, DVDs are new media’s most popular “conglomerate-friendly” product. The possible limitation to broadband DVDs is that linking relies on convergence media, which for the industry today means online content. Television, despite several articles discussing phenomena to the contrary, including the work of John T. Caldwell and “VR in the ER: ER’s Use of E-Media” by Jeremy G. Butler, is still predominantly an offline medium. But Video OnDemand, “interactive” features on major television providers such as Comcast and DirectTV, cable and satellite providers doubling as cable modem and DSL internet providers, and various cross-content efforts have played a role in imagining television as an integrated web medium linking the televisual world with the internet. And in 2002, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, New Line Home Entertainment, and Warner Home Video announced a cooperative effort to bolster the development and sales of a “next-gen” enhanced DVD player, a DVD-ROM player for the television (InterActual). Perhaps, then, if these points and the popularity of DVDs are any evidence, convergence is finally upon us. Finally, I explore the hierarchization of content within the strata of a DVD disk. In other words, does the film take precedence over content; or, similarly, does PC Friendly content supercede “making-of”s and other such content? At first glance, films proper and their additional content appear locked in a symbiotic relationship: both seek to gain (economically) from the other—and in the case of content, it would not exist without a parent source. John T. Caldwell’s
theory of “second-shift aesthetics,” a term he borrowed from the early television/web convergence experiment of homicide.com, serves as a model here to help finagle an appropriate approach to this relationship. Caldwell explains that second-shift aesthetics “attempt to bring new forms of rationality to unstable media economies.” In doing so, conglomerates are able to, if their second-shift tactics are successful, “track, monitor, and predict—or at least respond quickly to—multidirectional user flows and migrations.” The model can be condensed further: the firstshift is the impetus to interact with a company, the second-shift is the “stickiness,” the extra content, or “aggregate text” that extends the first-shift experience and maintains user relations (Caldwell 136-139). In terms of DVD video, the film is the impetus and the content is the second-shift aesthetic. Caldwell, however, does not specify which “shift” he believes is the primary focus of new media outlets. Obviously, for any motion-picture company, without the film, the first-shift, there is no DVD and no content. But within the DVD medium itself, I argue that the second-shift aesthetic takes precedence for purely financial reasons. Recalling our discussion of the DVD environment (which does not appear to stress the film itself) and the reemergence of online economic convergence in broadband DVDs (highly lucrative to media conglomerates), content, it would seem, is the priority of DVDs, rather than an ancillary, nice-to-have-it addition. Consider the Aladdin DVD: prominent on the title page is an advertisement, alongside one for other beloved Disney Classics headed to DVD, for a “preview” of the second disk, the disk filled with content. One might also cite as evidence the pronounced “Special Features” captions on the back of DVD packaging, and even the widely popular “DVD Review” that rates current releases not only on the content of a film, but on the content of its extra content. Added content on a DVD disk presents a company with new marketing strategies: with InterActual, more user monitoring; with its browser, a new site of consumption. But if the reception of films like Aladdin and Harry Potter are predetermined by first-shift aesthetics, DVD content, rather than enticing new viewers, will encourage established ones to further invest in a brand. As PC Friendly (and later TV Internet friendly) disks become the norm, which the current trends predict, DVDs will lean more and more away from films themselves and to their content where the possibility of further monetary investment is realized. Therefore, rather than viewing extra content on DVDs as partnered with a film text, it is, in fact, more appropriate to regard it as the paramount function of the DVD, converging medias successfully where few others could, and therefore championing the marketing aims of media conglomerates. InterActual also powers the Pirates of the Caribbean DVD for Disney, used as an example in the introduction of this paper. Albeit less a cult following film than Harry Potter, (though still, it seems, a potential sequel factory) Disney does not let good web-space go to waste, using InterActual’s browser to promote itself. Features include signing up for the “Disney Birthday Club” (to receive personalized Disney-themed e-cards on special occasions), or “DVD finder” (a search engine of available and upcoming DVD releases), or even downloadable wallpapers so that you may further brand your personal (Disney) space. Included, too, amidst this promotional morass is the option to buy tickets to the Disneyland resort to “see the real thing” (the Pirates of the Caribbean theme ride that is) in action. How vaguely the specters of Marcia Miner and Walt Disney begin to materialize. Like many films that unwittingly become the vessel of a high-profile trailer, content too is proliferating beyond the limits of a single film. Unfortunately, many DVD disks misread convergence media’s lure as a carte blanche and haphazardly string together orbital elements around an increasingly muted and ulterior core, the film proper, in response to larger intra-
industry currents. But scraping together close-to-relevant material for DVD releases is no longer the stopgap procedure it once was: the proliferation of convergence media available for browsing on DVDs has become a precise corporate-promoting instrument. Added content, in particular, while lending entertainment value above and beyond the immutable hours of screen magic, also exists to “converge” several financial parties in order to reap mutual benefits. The entropic mediascape today is under careful scrutiny from media critics representing, and inter-representing, all platforms of the “new media”—including cyberspace, web blogs, videogaming, wireless peripherals, HDTV, DVD, satellite radio, and updated versions of “dinosaurs” such as Broadcast television and print media. Its issues are universally vast and ironically and essentially humanist, given that its subjects increasingly lack a human element. One thing, however, is clear, even as traditional parameters are blurred: more crossover content, from the gimmicky to the bold, encompasses the normative vector flow of medias old and new than ever before. DVD content has established its crossover into web space and into the checkin/check-out aisles of e-commerce. One is therefore left to wonder if today’s most popular home viewing format does its service and if there is evidence to challenge the industry-asserted claim that “when medias converge, the consumer wins.” Works Cited Aladdin. Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. 1992. Platinum Edition DVD. Disney, 2004. Andrejevic, Marc. Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. Aufderheide, Patricia. “Competition and Commons: The Public Interest in and After the AOLTime Warner Merger.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 46.4 (2002): 515 531. Blevins, Jeffrey Lane. “Battle of the Online Brands: Disney Loses Internet Portal War.” Television & New Media 5.3 (2004): 247-271. Butler, Jeremy G. “VR in the ER: ER’s use of e-media.” Screen 42.4 (2001): 313-331. Caldwell, John T. “Second-shift Media Aesthetics: Programming, Interactivity, and User Flows.” New Media: Theories and Practices of Digitextuality. Ed. John T. Caldwell and Anna Everett. New York: Routledge, 2003. "Digital Video Disc." Encyclopedia of Emerging Industries. Online Edition. Thomson Gale, 2006. Reproduced in Business and Company Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.:Gale Group 2005. <http://galenet.galegroup.com.lib-proxy.nd.edu/servlet/BCRC>. Everett, Anna. “Digitextuality and Click Theory: Theses on Convergence Media in the Digital Age.” New Media: Theories and Practices of Digitextuality. Ed. John T. Caldwell and Anna Everett. New York: Routledge, 2003. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Dir. Alfonso Cuarón. 2004. 2-Disk Widescreen Edition DVD. Warner Brothers, 2004. InterActual. “Buena Vista Home Entertainment, New Line Home Entertainment and Warner Home Video Promote Next-Generation of Enhanced DVD Format.” Press Release. 25 Sept. 2002. <http://www.interactual.com/news/InterActual_Sept24.htm>. ———. Option provided to a DVD user when installing the InterActual player. Klein, Naomi. No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. New York: Picador, 1999. Lake, Matt. “Cram Sessions: The Evolution of an Even Deeper Disk.” New York Times 31 Jan. 2002, late ed., sec. G: 7. Mamber, Stephen. “Narrative Mapping.” New Media: Theories and Practices of
Digitextuality. Ed. John T. Caldwell and Anna Everett. New York: Routledge, 2003. NAPSA. “PCs Unlock Extra Features on DVD.” Napsnet. Press Release. <http://www. napsnet.com/pdf_archive/23/56005.pdf>. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Dir. Gore Verbinski. 2003. 2-Disk Collector’s Edition DVD. Disney, 2003. Saltzman, Marc. “Look Behind the DVD.” LA Times 2 Sept. 2003. E.3.