Warner Home Video is the home video distribution arm of Warner Bros., subsidiary of Time Warner. Founded in 1978 as WCI Home Video (for Warner Communications, Inc.), the company primarily releases titles from the film and television library of Warner Bros. Entertainment, as well as programs from other Time Warner companies.
The company launched in the United States with twenty films on Betamax and VHS videocassettes in late 1979. The company later expanded its line to include additional titles throughout 1979 and 1980.
Some early releases were time-compressed in order to save tape time and money and to compensate for long-playing cassettes being unavailable in the early days of home video. One example was 1978's Superman in which the film was released in a 127-minute format, compared to its 143-minute theatrical release. In addition, early film-to-video transfers of films from WCI were noted for being in poor quality, compared to modern day video releases. By the end of 1980, the quality of transfers had improved.
The company was noted in its early days for releases in big cardboard boxes that opened like a book, colored in black, with cast credits on the inside. Some early releases under the Warner Home Video name also used this design. In early 1981, the company switched to plastic clamshell cases, with a multicolor design, with a few releases using the cardboard boxes and the multicolor designs, and to cardboard sleeves in 1985 for packaging, eliminating plastic cases by 1986. In the mid 1990s, the studio revived the use of plastic cases for a handful of releases from Warner Bros. Family Entertainment.
Warner Bros. began to branch out into the videodisc market, licensing titles to MCA DiscoVision and RCA's SelectaVision videodisc formats, allowing both companies to market and distribute the films under their labels. By 1985, Warner was releasing material under their own label in both formats. Titles from Warner Home Video were and continue to be distributed and manufactured by Roadshow Home Video in Australia and New Zealand because of its film counterpart's films released by Village Roadshow.
Warner also experimented with the "rental-only" market for videos, a method also used by 20th Century Fox for their first release of Star Wars in 1982. Two known films released in this manner were Superman II and Excalibur. Other films released for rental use include Dirty Harry, The Enforcer, Prince of the City, and Sharky's Machine.
Notable firsts, Warner Archive Collection and distribution
In 1997, Warner Home Video was one of the first major American distributors for the then-new DVD format, by releasing Twister on DVD. Warner executive Warren Lieberfarb is often seen as "the father of DVD". Lieberfarb's successor, Warner Executive James F. Cardwell was recognized in paving the way for WHV's strategic positioning in next generation technologies such as High Definition DVD, electronic sell-through and portable video. In 2003, Warner Home Video became the first home video releasing company to release movies only on DVD with no VHS equivalent.
On September 26, 2006, Warner Home Video became the first company to release a title in three formats on the same day and date with the home release of The Lake House on DVD, Blu-ray and HD DVD. With Paramount Home Entertainment switching from neutral in the high definition video camp to solely to HD DVD in September 2007, Warner Home Video was at the time the only major distributor to support both high definition formats, though this changed at the end of May 2008. From June 2008, Warner Home Video released new high definition content on Blu-ray only, becoming the last major Hollywood studio to drop HD DVD after Toshiba discontinued the HD DVD format.
In 2009, Warner Home Video introduced the Warner Archive Collection, which allows the public to order custom-made DVDs of rarely seen films and TV series from the Warner and Turner libraries. The films are also available as digital downloads. Warner Archive DVDs and downloads can be ordered online on Warner's website, on Amazon.com or Turner Classic Movies-affiliated DVD website Movies Unlimited. (Although Movies Unlimited sells these archive titles, it usually takes 2–3 months before the DVD is available for order after Warners releases it on their website.)
In October 2012, Paramount Home Media Distribution and Warner Home Video signed a distribution deal, allowing Warner Bros. to gain U.S. and Canadian DVD, Blu-ray, UltraViolet, Flixster, and DVD-manufacturing-on-demand distribution rights to over 600 Paramount Pictures titles as well as new Paramount titles. The deal came into effect as of January 1, 2013.