THE MOVIE "PATCH ADAMS" IS DISTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES. THE DISTRIBUTOR WAS INCORRECTLY IDENTIFIED IN FAST FORWARD IN FRIDAY'S WEEKEND. (PUBLISHED 06/29/99)
CIRCUIT CITY'S announcement last week that it was pulling the plug on Divx, the pay-per-view DVD variant created by the retailer and a Hollywood law firm, made a lot of geeks happy. But what's it all mean for you?
Circuit City had proclaimed the Divx format the solution for consumers tired of having to pay late movie rental fees. Disposable Divx-formatted disks, which cost $4.50 each, could be played on a Divx player, but only for 48 hours after the first viewing. After then, you'd have to pay $3 and change for each additional viewing period (the modem-equipped Divx player tracked your viewing habits), or you could have paid $15 or so for unlimited viewing. The good news for Divx owners -- who can also watch normal DVDs on their players -- is that Circuit City is offering a $100 rebate to everyone who bought a Divx player. The bad news is, come June 30, 2001, the Divx system shuts down forever -- and every Divx disc, even if upgraded to unlimited viewing, will no longer work.
There were problems with Divx from the start: Circuit City was never able to get enough other stores to carry Divx discs and players, and the format never got widespread support from movie studios. But the main reason the format died just nine short months after its release seems to be the amount of hostility that the technology generated within the home entertainment buff community. Among other things, DVD's early adopters resented Circuit City's intention of making their expensive, early-model DVD players obsolete by making Divx the new standard. And so an online, grass-roots anti-Divx campaign began before Divx players and disks even hit the shelves, with Divx-haters raining a flood of angry phone calls on retailers that were even rumored to be considering carrying Divx disks. Consumer indifference has caused many products to wither away -- but this seems to be the first time consumers have banded together to shoot one down.
Now that Divx has entered the museum of orphan formats, movie buffs should have every reason to hope that certain studios will no longer have an excuse for dragging their feet in bringing out movies on the new format. Despite the DVD format's relatively brisk adoption rate -- more than 2.3 million players have been shipped since its debut in early 1997 -- many classic flicks, such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, are still only available on VHS.
Disney has been one of the major holdouts to DVD (and a notable supporter of Divx), so we called the company last week to ask if it was revising its plans. Alas, the only statement Disney would make on its DVD strategy at this point was rather terse: "Patch Adams is coming out on DVD on June 22." As for Disney's vast, decades-old collection of non-Robin Williams-related projects, the company had no comment.