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TinotopiaLog → Universal Pictures to Customers: Fuck You (25 Sep 2003)
Thursday 25 September 2003

Universal Pictures to Customers: Fuck You

The other day, I bought the new Animal House DVD, and a box set called “High School Reunion” that includes Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club, all from Universal. I very nearly bought the new release of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, also from Universal, and I am now glad that I didn’t.

The first one we watched was Animal House. After putting the DVD in, we see the standard threat — what do you know, this is one of those Hollywood-movie DVDs that you’re not allowed to copy or perform publicly! Who’da thunk it? — and then the ads begin.

Now, this may surprise people who read my regular customer service rants here, but I am not one of these people who complains about advertisements in movie theaters. I don’t like them — particularly not when seeing the same bad ad for the thirtieth time — but they don’t particularly bother me. And I certainly don’t mind trailers, which are, after all, just ads for movies. When I rent or buy a DVD, I nearly always watch all the trailers on the disc before watching the movie. Since I bought the TiVo, I don’t watch TV ads, and these trailers — in theaters and on DVDs — are one of the few places that I find out about movies I might like to see.

Anyway, the point is, I’m pretty sanguine about things like this. But what Universal has done is something else again.

On all the DVDs they released last week, Universal has put a standard ad reel, right after the copyright threat. It advertises Animal House, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and The Meaning of Life.

This means that, when you’re watching the DVD of Animal House that you’ve just bought, you are subjected to an ad exhorting you to go out and buy Animal House. When you’re watching Sixteen Candles, they try to get you to buy Sixteen Candles. And so on.

Now, if you go see Universal’s The Cat in the Hat in a movie theater, you’re not going to see a trailer for The Cat in the Hat. You have already, in marketing terms, been acquired as a customer for that picture. Universal isn’t going to waste its money trying to convince you to see a movie they know you’ve already decided to see. (Studios don’t pay to have trailers shown, exactly; they’re part of the distribution package. Still, there are only so many trailers they can have shown before a movie, so every one they throw in carries an opportunity cost.)

When you’re watching the DVD you’ve bought, though, the only cost of showing trailers is to you, the customer, so there would seem to be no downside to showing you an ad for something you’ve already bought.

This would be merely stupid, and not infuriating, were it not for Universal’s use of the DVD system’s ability to restrict you from skipping the ads.

That’s right: you can’t skip these things. You can’t fast forward past them, and you can’t hit the ‘menu’ button to get to the main menu. If you do press any buttons, the DVD player flashes the message “Operation not permitted by disc” on the screen.

So I have paid Universal for a DVD which hijacks my DVD player, my projector, my screen, and my boom-boom room in order to force me to watch advertisements for products I have already bought.

I used to go to movies a couple of times a week, when there was anything worth watching. As that experience went downhill — people do seem to talk a lot more in cinemas today than they used to — and got more and more expensive, it became more and more worthwhile to move my cinema experience in-house, as it were. I now watch movies on a screen that’s subjectively larger than ones in movie theaters (it’s smaller, about ten feet diagonally, but I sit closer to it), sitting on a nice leather sofa, and with snacks that are better and cheaper. The floor isn’t sticky, too, which is a plus.

But someone in the Universal Pictures marketing department has decided that I might be enjoying that a bit too much, so they’ve decided to do what they could to make the experience a bit less pleasant. I’ve spent a lot of money to gain a tiny bit of control over my movie-watching experience; this plainly can’t be permitted. Let me make this abundantly clear: it’s not the ads themselves that I object to, not even the incredibly stupidity of them attempting to sell me the very DVD I’m already attempting to watch. It’s their theft of my control, of my own stuff, in my own house.

I’m not going to consciously boycott Universal DVDs over this. I’ll still rent them, I suppose, and I will certainly complete my collection of pre-Home Alone John Hughes films (fortunately, of the remaining films, only Uncle Buck and The Great Outdoors are on Universal), but other than that, when I consider a DVD for purchase, and see that it’s a Universal release, it will have to be a title I really want before I buy it. I will take into consideration the fact that the entire cost of the DVD may well not represented by the price tag, and that I might well be forced to sit through ads before being allowed to consume the product I’ve paid for.

Universal has said to me, “Fuck you, and fuck the dollars you gave us, you chump. We want something more out of you.” I don’t appreciate that treatment, and I will go some distance out of my way in the future not to be again be asked by Universal Pictures to bend over.

Posted by tino at 09:49 25.09.03
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Simple way to fix this: Say you’re thinking of watching “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” tonight. It’s 7:30, and Seinfeld is on. Pop the DVD into the player now, watch Seinfeld, then when you’re ready, switch over to the DVD input and menu to your heart’s content.

Not the best way to fix this, mind, and I do agree that this is stupid, but better than being plugged to go out and buy “Ferris Beuller” again.

Posted by: Twonk at September 26, 2003 03:09 PM

I agree with you completely. I have heard that Canadian releases of certain DVDs do not include the forced ads that their American counterparts do, but I have yet to find this out for myself. Here’s a trick for getting past the forced ads, though. When the FBI warning comes up, hit stop. Then hit menu. This should get you straight to the menu without the ads even starting. I think this is silly of Universal, since they should want to discourage piracy. I, for one, would pay more money for a bootlegged CD-R of the movie without the ads.

Posted by: BBQ at April 1, 2004 05:58 PM

just press NEXT…..it works just fine here

Posted by: at February 26, 2005 09:23 PM