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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Warner Bros., what gives?

Published: October 28, 2011
Section: Opinions

I’m not sure if Warner Bros is trying to annoy me but whatever they’re doing is working. Last week, they implemented a new digital copy system, and now they’re messing with “Harry Potter.”

This week reports have been circulating that Warner Bros. intends to implement a moratorium on the sale of the “Harry Potter” films beginning Dec. 29, 2011. It seems that if you want to get your hands on a copy of the eighth and final film, or even the full eight-film set, you’ll have less than two months to do it. For people in the United Kingdom, they won’t even get a month to decide.

I don’t know who is in charge of these decisions. I had moved past my irritation at WB for delaying the sixth “Harry Potter” movie a while ago and had even forgotten how upset some fans were when the countdown to release it tripled overnight. It seems that the executives at Warner Bros. have only been biding their time, waiting for another opportunity to annoy consumers.

First came the new digital copy technology, which is a digital version of a movie that can be generally downloaded for free through iTunes or Windows Media Player by using the code provided when you buy a labeled Blu-ray disc or DVD. Usually the code has a one-year shelf life, meaning that after the movie has been in stores for a year, the digital copy is no longer offered. Digital copy technology first started appearing around 2007, when there was almost no standardization. Some copies worked with iTunes and Windows Media; some worked with only Windows Media; some worked with Windows; and some worked with Sony’s Playstation 3 and Playstation Portable.

In recent years, thankfully, it has become fairly standard that, if a digital copy is included, it will work in both iTunes and Windows Media Player. Additionally, it’s increasingly become standard to include a digital copy as a part of the purchase when someone buys a new movie. For example, when “Green Lantern” was released a couple of weeks ago, consumers could choose from standard Blu-ray version with special features; a DVD copy and a digital copy available in both 2D and 3D; a DVD that was just the movie without special features; and a Blu-ray version without special features. I’ve always bought the versions with special features because deleted scenes are a lot of fun and it can be very interesting to see how movies are made.

Even when special features are included across the board, versions with a digital copy tend to sell for a couple dollars more.

Starting this month with “Green Lantern” and “Horrible Bosses,” both distributed by Warner Bros., digital copies are changing for the worse. Both of these movies, and upcoming movies like “Deathly Hallows Part II,” are using a new technology called Ultraviolet. The idea behind Ultraviolet isn’t all that horrible. You create an account and then the system keeps a record of all the digital content rights you accumulate as digital copies. You can stream the content to any device that supports the technology and the content file-type can potentially be optimized for the specific device on which you watch the movie.

That’s about all that’s good with this service. Inconveniences include needing to sign-up for another service (on top of Netflix, Xbox Live or whatever services each consumer already uses), a lack of devices that support the technology and the inability to watch movies on an iPhone or iPad. Additionally, the main use of the service is for streaming movies and not having to store the movie files on your computer. I can get past the need to sign up for another account, especially because I can opt out of all the e-mails. I can get past the fact that not many devices currently support the service because they will eventually and computers just need to download an application in order to play the movies.

What I cannot get past is its incompatibility with iTunes and the lack of choice between getting an iTunes version or this new Ultraviolet version. When a digital copy is available on iTunes and Windows Media Player, the one-time validation code works with both formats. I can choose whether or not I want an iTunes file or a Windows file. The new Ultraviolet method does not include any way to use the digital copy with iTunes, so when I want to watch the movie on a flight, it won’t be readily available.

Additionally, when mobile devices such as cell phones do support the technology, it will only serve to bring people closer to reaching their monthly data caps. If I had a two-gigabyte cap and were to stream a standard definition digital copy of “Scream 4,” it would consume more than 75 percent of my monthly data allotment. That is pure insanity. This service is meant to compete directly with Apple’s iTunes as a digital media hub.

On to the decision that is nothing short of idiocy: Warner Bros.’ decision to cease home video production of the entire “Harry Potter” film series, until some later release, is just insane. The idea, long used by Disney, is that by pulling the films from retail, there would be a huge boom in sales when they eventually re-release the series some time in the future. Meanwhile, prices will skyrocket in secondary markets like eBay. Furthermore, since 2009, Warner Bros. has been releasing “Ultimate Editions” of the “Harry Potter” films including an eight-part documentary to be spread across the eight releases. All that are left to be released are the two parts of “The Deathly Hallows.” The release dates have not even been announced yet and if this marks the cancelation it would amount to Warner Bros. saying “screw you” to the dedicated fans who have been buying the movies.

Every company occasionally makes bone-headed decisions. After the delay of the sixth “Harry Potter” movie by eight months, I thought that was it for Warner Bros.; clearly I was wrong. Digital copies were an awesome idea. They gave me numerous options for movies on flights or even movies at school without having to carry a DVD around. If more and more movies only include Ultraviolet, then Warner Bros. will have become the harbinger of the end of what I consider a digital copy to be. Furthermore, Disney used to be the only company that openly practiced moratoriums on its most successful films. Warner Bros. is effectively opening the floodgate by showing that other companies can do it too. Seriously Warner Bros., what is this?