Thursday, February 02, 2006

Speed Racer Silliness

Last Friday I reported that Speed Racer - Volume 4 from Lionsgate, which is going to come out on March 14th, is confirmed by information on the back of the box to have only 8 episodes on it.


The "Volume 1" DVD release, from Artisan (now owned by Lionsgate, bought by them back when they were Lions Gate), had 11 episodes on it. Volume 2 had 12 eps. Volume 3 had 13 eps. All three of those were $22.95 SRP.

Lionsgate had 16 episodes left to release. They could choose to put them all onto Volume 4, making it either a double-sided disc or a two-disc set if needed to keep the video quality up to par, and charge a few bucks more (and I do mean just a few) if need be to cover additional costs.

They could choose to put the eight episodes they went with onto that one DVD, but lower the SRP to an appropriate level to make up for only having 66% of the average number of episodes from the previous three releases.

They could choose to keep the price and dig up some extras to round out the DVD with some bonus content. There are plenty to be found (more on that in a minute).

They didn't choose any of those options. They kept the list price of $22.95 and are giving us one third fewer episodes for the same cost. And stretching out the completion of this series on DVD in the process, by a year based on the annual pattern of releases so far.


As I said, there is PLENTY of bonus material that fans would love to have. Back in the year 2002, "Speed Racer Enterprises" released Speed Racer - DVD Collection Signature Edition, a 5-disc set that had lots of extras: a VW TV Commercial centered around Speed and the gang, a Sponge "Speed Racer" music video, a featurette with a breakdown of the secrets of the Mach-5 based on footage from the episodes, a music video compilation of footage highlighting "Racer X", a 2001 interview with Peter Fernandez (the voice of Speed Racer), and "The Silver Phantom": a pilot which was made in 1997 for a new Speed Racer series that wasn't televised in the USA until 2001. There are also episodes of the 1994 "New Adventures of Speed Racer" series and the 2002 "Speed Racer X" series which could potentially be included as bonus material. Or to let Lionsgate give us 12 episodes on Volume 4, and on Volume 5 put the last four episodes of the original series and then pick up the rest of the DVD with episodes from the newer series.

These extras are hard to find, and the 5-Disc box set was limited to only 1000 copies and is not made anymore (I hear it goes for a bundle on eBay). Lionsgate could have made Speed Racer fans proud of them with lots of extras, but haven't given us any except a paltry few on the first volume. Since then, they've strictly marketed these bare-bones releases to the kiddies, rather than to the adult fans who grew up with the show.


By the way, I don't know why some of the studios think that kids don't like extras. My son just turned 8 last week, and he's ALWAYS asking me if I can help him start the bonus features on his DVDs for Scooby-Doo, Transformers, Wacky Races, etc. You think that kids don't care about supplements? Not my son. Wait, you think I turned him onto extras? Nope, wasn't me. He found them on his own! So it's not his TVShowsOnDVD dad that got him into this "I want to see bonus material" mode...he, like his friends, have all discovered the joys of enhanced content by exploring the DVD menus when the features are done.

So, Lionsgate is handling this release with silliness, I say. Bill Hunt, who runs, agrees on how silly this is, and has been even more vocal than I about how silly this is. About how upset he is. The Bits and TVShowsOnDVD has spoken plainly that we object to this release strategy.

How did Lionsgate respond? Defensively.

Trade magazine Home Media Retailing ran a story by Chris Tribbey called " 'Speed Racer' Has Slow Rollout, But Flies Off Of Shelves Fast". In it, Liongate VP of Marketing Michael Rathauser predictably defends the company's strategy, pointing out that Lionsgate knew little of the anime market when it took on the property.

Silliness. Speed Racer isn't your typical "anime". It's a classic American televison program, with a hardcore following that may be smaller that the number of fans dedicated to Star Trek or Looney Tunes or Seinfeld or South Park...but no less serious. This was never a "niche" product. This was a mainstream release from the get-go. If they thought otherwise, then they didn't do their homework.

Rathauser says they've sold over 500,000 units of the first three volumes. That's half a million. Do they really think half a million consumers will appreciate getting less for their money this far into the releases? The words I've heard from fans who are incensed in regard to the "we used to get about-a-dozen episodes per release and are now getting a third less for the same amount of money" issue are crying "bait and switch". Some folks are just hopping mad out there, and intend to wait for a price reduction on this 4th volume before getting it. I may be joining them in that. My son loves Speed, but he'll find other things to keep him busy. Beast Machines, Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt and Super Mario Bros. Super Show are all box sets, loaded with extras. He'll be plenty busy, and so will many adults who wait for a better price.

In the article, Rathauser continues to try to convince retailers that there's no problem with this release, and that they have the winning formula. He says that BECAUSE they were "knowing they had a popular product" (a direct contradiction to his earlier remarks that "initially, we weren’t sure how well it would perform") they skipped doing "simple extras" and instead "added value...and added toys and specialty items to each DVD release". The article cites the specialized packaging as representing that value: Volume 1's rubber tire look (many fans complain that the rubber is pealing off the box after repeated use), Volume 2's theme song and light-up headlights (which no longer work when the battery dies, and no way to replace the battery without destroying the cardboard), and Volume 3's round metal "wheel" package (fans hate the way it needs the decaying cardboard "stand" to stay on the shelf next to the others, and hate how hard it is to open).

So Volume 4's "added value" is a Hot Wheels- or Matchbox-style die-cast car that's probably not going to be as well made as the "Johnny Lightning" brand of toy that you could get in Wal-Mart a while back for under $5. An item many Speed Racer fans already have. Critics do NOT consider this toy Mach-5 to be worth the loss of 4 episodes, and Lionsgate is mistaken to think otherwise. Rathauser says that $22.98 is the right price for this release, a better price than most anime because this has "broad appeal". Too right, Michael, but you're mistaken to compare Volume 4 to other releases. Several years into the release strategy, you're only getting fans who compare it (unfavorably) to the previous three releases.

Knock $3 to $5 off the SRP ($17.95 - $19.95), keep the toy car, and the studio might start to see critics lighten up. Maybe.

The Home Media Retailing story concludes by saying "Lionsgate has spaced out the release of the five volumes, with one each year. Volume Five is due sometime in 2007. 'We have given each volume time in the marketplace,' Rathauser said. 'It’s worked.' "

Will it work this time? Won't consumers feel duped? Will the offline mass-market (who doesn't find about about these issues in advance) even notice? Lionsgate is betting they won't, and that they will make bigger bucks overall from the folks out there who just buy them for the kiddies (or themselves) but are oblivious to how many episodes they got for their money. Sad to say, they're probably going to win that bet.



At February 02, 2006 6:31 PM, Blogger Dave Lambert said...

Let me clarify one of my comments in the blog post above. I said that "Liongate [sic] VP of Marketing Michael Rathauser predictably defends the company's strategy".

I didn't mean "predictably" to sound like it's a bad thing. Rathauser is paid to put a positive spin on any decision that Lionsgate makes. Of course he's going to defend the company strategy. I don't mean to imply that he should do anything else.

Of course, that doesn't stop me - or you guys - from poking some obvious holes in his arguments, or in the studio's strategy.

One other thing I wanted to say in there, and quite simply forgot to: Lionsgate, and Artisan prior to that, planned poorly on this release. 52 episodes can be more evenly divided into about 10 or 11 episodes per volume right from the start, if you want to end up with a 5-volume plan. If you shoot for a total of four volumes, it's easier to put 13 episodes on each one.

Let's say that Artisan did 11 episodes on the first one, and you're Lionsgate who've now merged with Artisan and now you are left with 41 episodes to release going forward. Go with 10 eps per release, and put the extra on the last set, and now you're back to having about-even numbers of episodes on each volume throughout the entire release run.

Because, you see, the real issue is that we all got used to getting around 12 episodes per release for one consistent price, and now they're changing up on us. When I posted my first news about Volume 4, "Is This The End For Speed Racer?", I said this:

"There were 52 episodes in the run of the show, and on previous DVDs we got 11, 12, and 13 episodes respectively. That's 36 so far, leaving just 16 episodes left for Lionsgate to provide on DVD. It makes all the sense in the world that all 16 of them would be included on the Collector's Edition Vol. 4. However, the studio hasn't formally announced the set just yet, so we are just speculating...we don't really know at this time."

You see, I knew there almost HAD to be a change-up, and I gave Lionsgate the benefit of the doubt that they would give us MORE for their money, not less.

I was bitterly disappointed to find out I was wrong! We know that many of you were similarly disappointed. Let's hear it from those of you who were!

At February 02, 2006 11:01 PM, Blogger J.D. said...

Ever since ALF, I have no respect for anything LionsGate has put out. Their SNL releases are butchered, and if I'm not mistaken, they put out the TMNT old school stuff, and I've not been happy with that either.

At February 03, 2006 12:32 PM, Anonymous Wesley Mead said...

What can I say? I completely agree. Lionsgate are nothing short of conning consumers. Unfair, and they should be thanking the consumer for sticking with the releases despite being poorly planned and lacking extras by giving them all 16 episodes, for maybe $5 more, instead of charging consumers something like 66% more per episode than they should have been on the past four releases.

At February 03, 2006 7:32 PM, Blogger Gord Lacey said...

"Their SNL releases are butchered"

Those are actually produced by Broadway Video Enterprises, not Lionsgate. LG had distribution, and now Universal has it. You won't see any difference with the Universal DVDs.


At February 07, 2006 3:36 PM, Blogger Richard "nightc1" said...

Speed Racer is a show I'm pretty fond of but the DVD sets as they've come out weren't worth the cost. I have a strict value system for tvshows on DVD and only extremely special cases am i spending over $1 per originally aired half hour of any show. Even my rabid fandom of TekWar had me getting the canadian release of tv series from an ebay reseller for right at my value of $1 per originally aired half hour. And that was a really super special case where i would have paid more due to my rabid fandom of that short lived series.

But for a down to earth Example, for $40 I can get Lost Season 1.. which is one of the pricier shows to buy since most of the old stuff runs $30. Ok so for my $40 I get 24 TV Aired Hours worth of programming. That's 48 TV Aired Half Hours. Thus making each TV Aired Half Hour just under $1.

And if Lost didn't include the extras, deleted scenes, specials, and other stuff it would still be worth the purchase.

But Speed Racer... for 11 episodes at $23... and I'm hitting $2 per Aired Half hour. That's just crazy. And even marked down at K-Mart or another store to $10 for the early seasons... that's the only time it breaks below the $1 per Aired Half hour mark and becomes worth the purchase. For 8 episodes and no bonus features... Lionsgate is really asking too much. I'm sure the diehard rabid fans will still buy it... but more casual fans like me or anyone with a real "value system" like mine probably will be happy just having the first few seasons bought cheaply at $10 each and wait for the inevitable price drop.

At February 12, 2006 1:23 AM, Blogger otho said...

It seems lately there has been much less available in good bonus material in general. Also, I used to get a real kick out of easter eggs, and there hardly seems to be any on dvd releases these days. Am I wrong?


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