Warner Bros.’ George Feltenstein on Warner Archive ­5-13During the 2013 TCM Film Festival, Reveal Shot featured an interview with George Feltenstein, senior vice president of catalog marketing for Warner Bros. Digital Distribution, who discussed the studio’s painstaking restoration of “Giant” (1956), which screened on Day 2 of the festival.

Now, here is the second part of that interview. Feltenstein talks about the ongoing success of the Warner Archive.

Feltenstein founded the Archive in 2009. Though Sony had announced early in 2008 that it would bring some of its niche titles to DVD on a made-on-demand basis, the Warner Archive was first to market with the concept.  As Feltenstein explained to me in an interview at the time, there was a great deal of “pent-up demand” for many of the titles in Warner’s movie and TV library, the largest in the world.

The home video market seemed to be in full decline. The U.S. was still in the throes of the economic recession of 2008-09, and an increasing number of people seemed to prefer DVD rental to purchase. Retailers were returning many unsold discs to the studios, saying they could no longer justify the shelf space. Worse, important outlets like Tower Video and Virgin Megastore disappeared from the landscape.

However, Feltenstein noticed that a number of older titles had sold very well in the retail market over the previous year. He knew there were much-requested A-list films and TV shows that would generate solid sales if sold directly by the studio at

Initially, 150 films were made available, and the program was an immediate success. Today Warner Archive offers more than 1,500 titles, many of them either remastered or brought up to a standard of quality just below that of a full remastering.

Feltenstein said in the April 26 interview that it is gratifying to see other studios, including MGM and Fox, move ahead with their own on-demand disc offerings, because “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.”

One of my favorite Warner Archive releases, “Don Juan” (1926), starring John Barrymore and Mary Astor, the first film with synchronized sound effects and music score.

“We would like to see every studio that has a large film library make their movies available as we have done. We make the caveat that we make sure that there is a significant level of quality improvement from what had been offered on television or VHS or whatever the case might have been.”

Other studios have stumbled, at times, in this regard. Fox has raised the ire of film buffs with its Fox Cinema Archives initiative, launched last year, which frequently issues movies shot in the CinemaScope widescreen format in so-called “pan-and-scan” versions, when anamorphic widescreen has been the accepted home video standard for many years.

In the pan-and-scan process, a telecine operator pans horizontally across the image to find the middle of the wide frame  to give viewers a sense of what’s happening on the screen. The result is a loss of about 30% of the picture.

Warner Archive has of course recently begun a streaming offering, an indication that Feltenstein isn’t concerned that the technology will cannibalize Blu-ray and DVD sales.

A fascinating Internet discussion last month focused on the concern of cinephiles Stephen Bowie and Stuart Galbraith IV that too many film buffs appear to be settling for streaming, when the superior Blu-ray experience has become quite affordable.

“I think streaming is additive, and complementary [to Blu-ray],” Feltenstein said. “For the consumer who wants to own a film, Blu-ray provides the opportunity to own a film at the highest possible quality. And having the ease and access of being able to watch content on several different devices is only a plus.

“The use of Blu-ray for catalog titles is a growing business,” Feltenstein went on, despite the ongoing weakness of the economy and the ascendance of streaming.

“.. It’s all about the right format and the right availability, and it’s a call to action for all of the studios to make sure their libraries are well-maintained so that the quality is sufficient to justify a Blu-ray presentation.”

— David B. Wilkerson


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