Sony opens cyber vault for classics on DVD

Unit releasing wide selection of films on disc for first time

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will exploit the infinite shelf space of cyberspace when it unveils its Screen Classics by Request program Monday.

Effectively opening the Columbia Pictures film vault, the Sony home-entertainment unit will offer consumers a wide selection of films never before released on DVD. Fans will be able to purchase DVDs of more than 100 classic Columbia titles covering a 75-year span.

Additional titles will be made available monthly via the program's website at "Screen Classics by Request" discs will sell for $19.94, plus shipping. DVDs ordered through the program will be manufactured on demand by Sony; (no Blu-ray Disc versions will be available).

The strategy roughly mimics the venture launched by Warner Home Video last year. Such on-demand programs minimize manufacturing costs on lower-volume titles while offering a means of getting more titles before the public.

Distributors have been struggling with a shrinking availability of retail shelf space following scores of store closures by traditional disc outlets.

"The big picture on this is that we are always looking for ways to address the customer's needs," SPHE exec vp global digital and commercial innovation John Calkins told THR. "If you have a title that maybe 10,000 or even 50,000 people want, it just doesn't pencil out for the stores to carry those."

Calkins noted that titles catching fire via the cyber-vault program may be offered to traditional retailers for sale as well. Sometime in the next 12 months, SPHE also plans to begin offering some of the Screen Classics titles for digital sell-through.

"The launch of Screen Classics by Request is an important step in the evolution of our multiplatform distribution strategy," Calkins said.

Among the first disc titles to be offered are "The Pumpkin Eater" (1964), with Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch; "Footsteps in the Fog" (1955), starring Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons; Sam Wanamaker's "The Executioner" (1970), with George Peppard; "The Juggler" (1953), starring Kirk Douglas; Sherlock Holmes mystery "A Study in Terror" (1965); "I Never Sang for My Father" (1970), with Melvyn Douglas and Gene Hackman; "Genghis Kahn" (1965), with Omar Sharif; and "Les Voleurs" (1996), with Catherine Deneuve.

The Screen Classics website also will offer behind-the-scenes photos from the production of select films. Consumers also can request info about as-yet unavailable titles.