Cheap DVDs distributed by newspapers flooding Czech market

Photo: Khalil Baalbaki

In 2007 almost all of the Czech Republic’s national newspapers began offering their readers cheap DVDs. Such movies are not free supplements as you might get in the UK for instance, but are sold separately at an extremely low cost. These DVDs have become a real phenomenon, with almost 60 million entering distribution last year. What does this mean for the industry? And can the boom last?

Pavel Borowiec is the director of the industry body DVD Group:

“In other countries such as the UK the system is that a DVD is included with a newspaper and it is part of the price of the paper. The Czech market has chosen to do it another way.”

The release of the action movie Total Recall by Sport this week is a case in point. The newspaper promoted the DVD with ads saying “Sport + DVD = 51 crowns”. That is the price if you buy both. But you don’t have to, and most don’t, picking up the DVD separately for around 40 crowns (USD 2.5). Like all such releases it comes in a cheap cardboard cover, though you can download a proper cover from Sport’s website. The daily nominally put out Total Recall “with” its Wednesday edition, but the movie will probably stay on the shelves for at least a week. Pavel Borowiec:

“It’s great news. Every copy that is sold is good for the industry. The earnings are important for a business which experienced VHS coming to an end extremely quickly and is under extraordinary pressure. Nobody wants to pay anything for content, what with piracy…Every DVD sold is good for us, because it at least replaces the money that hasn’t been coming in over the last two years.”

Film critic Tomáš Baldýnský says it was a trend waiting to happen:

“We couldn’t avoid it. This is something that had to be done. It’s a world trend of keeping the price of film or DVD as low as possible to fight the pirates. The DVD penetration among the public is so good that you can do it. So now you can think, will I download a film for seven hours from the internet, or will I shell out 49 crowns and buy the film? I will have the film on disc and I won’t feel bad about it…This is something that we had to expect, we expected it, but the scale of it has been really surprising.”

The scale has indeed been surprising. Czech magazines had previously offered cheap DVDs, but when the daily press started doing so the market went ballistic. All but one of the country’s national newspapers has gotten in on the act, with the dailies raking in an estimated 870 million crowns between them in 2007. They put out over 250 titles and flooded the market with almost 60 million cheap DVDs. Compare that to the market for regular, full-price DVDs (which generally go for CZK 300 or 400) – less than three million were bought by Czech consumers in 2007.

As for the kind of films appearing on the news stands, that is strongly influenced by the titles the newspapers can get their hands on at a low price, explains Pavel Borowiec:

“You’re limited by the fact that the Hollywood studios only agree to such releases in exceptional cases. They never, ever allow new films to be sold like this, and they won’t let you have their older films either. All you can distribute like this is older films which in any case wouldn’t sell. And Czech films dominate this market.”

Photo: Khalil Baalbaki
The three biggest sellers in this segment last year were Ať žijí duchové!, Pelišky and S tebou mě baví svět. All three are regarded as Czech classics and have been screened on television numerous times. The theory is that those who buy such movies wouldn’t buy other DVDs otherwise; they are simply taking advantage of a chance to pay peanuts for a film they already know and love. Pavel Borowiec of DVD Group continues:

“There is no impact at all on the sale of DVDs. In fact, sales were up 15 percent last year. There is just no indication that it has caused any problems with sales. But it’s a different story when it comes to DVD rentals – people don’t rent films that have already come out with papers.”

Another issue is of course quality and it seems that, as often as a consumer, you get what you pay for. Critic Tomáš Baldýnský again:

“The DVDs themselves are not really well presented movies. A lot of the DVDs that are sold have problems with the audio track. Because they just put one version of the visual track and another of the audio track and they just try to somehow synchronise them. Mostly you see Beta transfers of movies so it’s not really good picture quality – it’s not really good DVD quality, never mind something like Blu-ray.

So what we give people very cheaply are not well presented movies. Some of them are really good, and we can be really happy that they find their way to people like this. Some of them are crap and deserve to be treated as such.”

This huge boom in dirt cheap, newspaper distributed DVDs began last year, really accelerating from August on. How long can it last? Pavel Borowiec:

“It’s a very risky situation on the newsagents market. They’re shipping out so many copies, but the number of returns can be high and the papers can make a loss. It’s a fashion at the moment, and fashions can go as quickly as they come…But it’s definitely a good alternative sales system and thank God it exists.”