If physical media is dying, as the business pundits have been telling us for years, then someone forget to send the memo to Shout! Factory.
Born ten years ago out of the DNA of the original Rhino Records crew, Shout! Factory is the pop culture geek squad of home video and it has carved out a niche in the home video industry—actually, a few niches, from horror and science fiction to cult movies to classic TV.
Last year, the company released over 300 titles on Blu-ray and DVD, including a handful of remastered John Carpenter special editions and an impressive box set of Bruce Lee films (everything but “Enter the Dragon”) on Blu-ray and DVD. Coming up in 2014 is a deluxe set of 16 Werner Herzog films on Blu-ray (slated for the end of July) and a complete “Halloween” box set, from Carpenter’s original to Rob Zombie’s revivals, produced in partnership with Anchor Bay (scheduled for release in the fall – just before Halloween, of course).
Shout! is just as committed to releasing television shows on disc, from the complete run of “Hill Street Blues” to collections showcasing Steve Martin TV specials, Mel Brooks on the small screen, and the incomparable and innovative TV work of Ernie Kovacs.
While the major studios have slowed the pace of disc releases to a trickle, at least where classics and catalog titles are concerned, to focus on digital distribution, independent labels are filling the void. Olive Films released a slate of classics from the Paramount catalog on Blu-ray, from John Wayne’s pre-“Stagecoach” B-westerns to Betty Boop cartoons to cult noirs like “Cry Danger” and “Sleep My Love.” Twilight Time has been delivering limited-run Blu-ray releases of films from the Sony and Fox collections for a few years now. Kino, known for foreign imports and silent movie classics, has just created a Kino Lorber Studio Classics line for films licensed from the MGM Home Video catalog, with films like Billy Wilder’s “Witness for the Prosecution” and Blake Edwards’ “The Party” making their Blu-ray debuts this summer.
And of course there is Criterion Collection, the gold standard for classics on Blu-ray and DVD. Founded in 1984, Criterion sets the bar for home video presentation with its commitment to high-quality digital masters (often created with the participation of the filmmakers and directors of photography) and supplements, starting back in the days of laserdiscs, when it introduced the audio commentary track on the 1985 release of “King Kong.”
Clearly there is still a market for Blu-ray and DVD in the age of streaming and digital downloads. “There definitely is an audience for it,” said Cliff MacMillan, a disc producer who pursues acquisitions for the Shout! Factory classics and Scream Factory lines. “Just like there is an audience for the Criterion Collection. Just the first week’s pre-orders on the ‘Halloween’ set are amazing.”