DVD Extras Are the Future of the Internet

In the DVD industry, flat growth is exciting because it means you’re not dead yet. But alongside the growth of on-demand movies and the increasing irrelevance of buying a shrink-wrapped box, there’s something of value that’s getting left behind: DVD extras and special features. And that’s a shame, but it’s also an opportunity.

From 10 years ago when a DVD buyer was lucky to get director’s commentary to the the extensive goody boxes included with videos today, there’s been a tremendous creation of resources associated with movies and the process of making them. But as we transition to renting our movies from Netflix, which mails us just the feature film disk, and downloading and streaming them from iTunes/Amazon/Hulu, which leave out everything but the movie, that little packet of wonderfulness gets forgotten.

Which brings me to my point: Studios and filmmakers should offer these materials, and more, online. If there’s one thing I believe about the Internet, it’s that it gives people an unprecedented opportunity to succeed by catering to people’s obsessions. That’s the real genius of immersive online content like lonelygirl15 and Prom Queen, as I’ve written many times before.

When I finish watching a movie, the first thing I do is look it up on Wikipedia and IMDB to read up on the context surrounding its making. But that information is an approximation at best, compiled from snippets of interviews and fifth-person sources. The trivia sections on IMDB are flat-out terrible.

And that’s something filmmakers could do so much better by taking it into their own hands. You — the person who created the movie — know the funny story behind that ad-lib, or the reason that particular prop is out of place because you were there. And that’s information that your most devoted fans, a.k.a. your engaged audience, a.k.a. your customers, will eat right up and love you all the more for. Some examples of people doing this already are newly-crowned-Internet-posterboy Joss Whedon and a startup called MovieSet.

The Internet only expands the possibilities: you could clue fans in on progress directly from the set, or making some aspect of your production participatory (for instance, the Ask a Ninja guys just announced they’re accepting video applications to appear in their upcoming remake of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes).

In our celebrity-driven culture, the distribution and communications tools aren’t locked up in the hands of the observers. Entertainers have the ability to connect with their audiences directly; it’s just that not many of them do it yet. Those same fans who are clicking refresh on Perez Hilton 20 times a day could be getting the real dirt on your own blog. Or they could be watching you, or even participating with you, in a staring contest on your own site, as Jessica Alba did on iBeatYou.

I’m not saying that the full potential of the Internet is trivia and featurettes. But I am saying that it offers an opportunity to breathe new life into DVD extras — an opportunity to put DVD extras on steroids. And that would have real value.