|The Criterion Collection|
|Location City:||New York, New York|
|Key People:||Jonathan B. Turell (CEO)|
|Industry:||Motion picture video production|
|Products:||DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, download|
|Revenue:||$6.1 million in 2007|
|Owner:||The Voyager Company|
The Criterion Collection is a privately held company that distributes "authoritative" consumer versions of "important classic and contemporary films," first on Laserdisc, and then on DVD, Blu-ray and downloading online.
Due to the company's private nature, very little publicly accessible information regarding the business or its relationships with other entities is available. Nevertheless, what information can be gathered from media sources reveals that the Criterion Collection shares a close business relationship with Janus Films. It also shared a working relationship with Home Vision Entertainment (HVE), which was a publicly traded company in the United States, until 2005, when HVE was acquired by Image Entertainment.
The Criterion Collection was founded in 1984 by Robert Stein, Aleen Stein (then Robert's wife), and Joe Medjuck. Later they were joined by Roger Smith. In 1985, the Steins, William Becker, and Jonathan B. Turell (son of Saul J. Turell) founded The Voyager Company. Voyager was a developer of multimedia CD-ROMs that released dozens of educational CD-ROMs between 1989 and 2000.  During that time, the Criterion Collection became a division of Voyager. In March 1994, Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH purchased a twenty-percent share of Voyager for US$6.7 million. The four founders themselves each retained a twenty-percent share.
In the late 1990s, Voyager was broken up. In the winter of 1994, Aleen Stein divorced Robert Stein and left the active management of the company to start another CD-ROM publishing company, Organa LLC, although she retained her share in Voyager. In the winter of 1997, Holtzbrinck Publishers sold 42 Voyager CD-ROM titles, the Voyager brand name, the Voyager Web site, and associated assets to Learn Technologies Interactive (LTI) LLC (Robert Stein had himself sold 42 Voyager CD-ROM titles to LTI some time earlier in exchange for his shares in Voyager/Criterion). At this time, the remaining founding partners, Aleen Stein, William Becker and Jonathan Turell retained complete ownership of Criterion, each with one-third share of the company; Turell became the CEO and Becker's son, Peter Becker, became the president (Peter Becker had been the president of Voyager and, before that, the director of its Criterion division). Aleen Stein no longer has a role in the day-to-day operations, but she continues to own one third of the company.
Janus Films Inc. was founded by Bryant Haliday and Cyrus Harvey Jr. in 1955 and was sold by them in 1966. At some point thereafter, the company was acquired by William Becker and Saul Turell. It is likely, although unverified, that Becker and Turell were the 1966 purchasers of Janus Films.
Charles Benton founded Public Media Inc. (PMI) in 1968. PMI's home video division, HVE, was established in 1986. Charles' daughter, Adrianne B. Furniss, became PMI's president in 1996, and its CEO in 1999. Adrianne B. Furniss is also the Chief Executive Officer of HVE. Charles Benton is the Chairman of HVE.
HVE, which was also a privately held company, acted as distributor for Criterion's DVD releases as well as providing sales, advertising and marketing services. HVE released its own line of DVDs on its own HVE line, including The Merchant Ivory Collection, produced in association with the Criterion Collection and was dedicated to releasing DVDs of films of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, and the Classic Collection, "a joint venture between Home Vision Entertainment and Janus Films." The latter appears to be dedicated to releasing DVDs under the HVE imprint of films for which Janus Films holds DVD rights and are not currently available from the Criterion Collection. Films under the Classic Collection imprint, however, have also been released by the Criterion Collection. In 2005, HVE was acquired by Image Entertainment. As a result of this transaction, Image Entertainment became the exclusive distributor of the Criterion Collection. DVDs continue to be released under the HVE imprint, but it is unclear how long the practice will continue. It does not appear that the close working relationship between the Criterion Collection and HVE has continued since the Image Entertainment acquisition.
Criterion pioneered many innovations in the way movies are presented on video that could be commonly thought of as standard features on consumer DVDs. These include the use of letterboxing, commentary tracks, the release of multi-disc sets and special editions, and definitive versions.
Letterboxing is a practice in which widescreen movies are presented in their original theatrical aspect ratios for viewing on the home television screen. Though initially disliked by some consumers since the letterboxed image would not use the full area of the television, the practice was soon embraced by movie enthusiasts since it allowed the cinematographer's or director's original framing to be presented at home for the first time—previous home video releases typically cropped significant portions (25%-50%) of the image to fit the standard television screens. The 1987 Criterion laserdisc of Ridley Scott's cult film Blade Runner was a seminal home video release that helped legitimize letterboxing (although it was not the first video release to have been letterboxed). 
The release of Criterion's second catalogue title, King Kong, marked the debut of the audio commentary track, a scene-specific analysis by Ronald Haver, on one of the laserdisc's analog audio channels. His commentary included several aspects of production, including the cast, script, production design and special effects. Haver also did commentaries for the Criterion laserdisc editions of Casablanca, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Singin' in the Rain and The Wizard of Oz. Additional commentaries would follow featuring directors, production personnel or film historians. These commentaries would usually be exclusive to Criterion releases (including their initial DVD reissues), and would become collector's items when major studios would reissue certain titles originally licensed to Criterion, with or without a new commentary of their own.
Criterion commentaries are noted for having an index (much like movie chapters) where you can access specific points in the audio track depending on what was being discussed.
The company's debut releases were the 1984 laserdiscs of Citizen Kane and King Kong, both originally RKO titles. In both cases, Criterion pioneered the concept of the special edition, in which a movie is presented with numerous bonus materials including trailers, directors' audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes documentaries, alternate endings, deleted scenes, and more. Peter Becker calls this idea, "a film school in a box". This concept was quickly embraced by almost all other home video companies, from the mainstream to small specialty labels. Today, special edition DVDs, even for the most trivial of films, have become standard practice.
To take advantage of new film transfer and restoration technologies, Criterion has embarked on an ongoing, highly-selective campaign to overhaul some of their most important earlier titles with enhanced picture and new supplements: in 2006 new editions of Amarcord, Brazil, and Seven Samurai were released.
Under license from the copyright holders, Criterion has released definitive, and in some cases unique, video editions of such films as Citizen Kane, A Hard Day's Night, It's a Wonderful Life, Cat People, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jason and the Argonauts, as well as those noted below. Many of these editions are now out of print, usually where the film's copyrights have changed hands or where the copyright holders have decided to release their own versions. As a result, many Criterion titles are now collectors' items.
Some of Criterion's titles, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, are now out-of-print and unavailable, and sell at high prices on auction sites. Titles go out of print only when Criterion's license for them expires and is not renewed; this typically happens when the original licensor wishes to release its own version of the title, as happened with The Silence of the Lambs, RoboCop, and the John Woo movies Hard-Boiled, and The Killer.
In a few cases, early releases (such as the laserdisc edition of Citizen Kane, or the DVD editions of Beauty and the Beast, M, Seven Samurai, and The Wages of Fear) are taken out of print to make way for Criterion's own re-releases, which typically feature improved transfers and more comprehensive supplements.
The film Charade featuring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant became public domain on its release due to the absence of a copyright notice that was required at that time. This means that any home video distributor may release the film without paying royalties. While some budget labels have released lower quality versions, the Criterion Collection produced a digitally cleaned DVD edition of the film using high-quality source materials under license from Universal Pictures and included extras. It repeated this process for its later anamorphic re-release.
Originally, Criterion released a wide variety of films on laserdisc such as classics, and artistic films and in addition released mainstream films such as Halloween, Ghostbusters and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Currently, Criterion usually selects non-American films, established classics and obscure (albeit critically admired) movies over mainstream Hollywood fare, although it has released the occasional mainstream blockbuster such as Armageddon and The Rock. Criterion is noted for spending a great deal of effort and money tracing the best source materials for classic films, and engaging in thorough video clean-ups, a practice that has influenced other companies, most notably Warner Home Video.
Some Criterion DVDs, such as The Passion of Joan of Arc, M, and Children of Paradise, contain short restoration demonstrations, which compare unrestored prints with the painstakingly restored new master. However, this is not always looked upon favorably: The Toho Company took exception to the restoration demonstration on Criterion's first DVD release of Seven Samurai, and the disc was quickly reissued without the demonstration.
Criterion was a laserdisc pioneer, but was a late entrant into the DVD market, not releasing its first titles on the new format until DVD had been on the market for approximately a year. Indeed, Criterion's early DVD releases of widescreen films were presented in letterbox format as was the case with widescreen laserdisc films, rather than being anamorphically enhanced: Criterion's first anamorphic release was #47, Insomnia, although there would not be another release of an anamorphically enhanced film in a widescreen ratio until #55: The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
In 1998, the company discontinued its line of laserdisc releases. While the laserdisc editions are no longer available, bonus materials from them, such as commentary tracks, have appeared on DVD releases issued by other companies. For example, Martin Scorsese's commentary track for Raging Bull appears on the MGM special edition DVD.
On November 25, 2008, Criterion began offering select movies for download on its official website for a fee of $5.
Criterion did not release films in a high-definition video format until after the high definition optical disc format war ended. Their first Blu-ray disc titles were released on December 16, 2008.
The price range as of 2006 is about US$30 for a one-disc set and US$40 for a two-disc set. The rare discs to break the pricing structure are generally films produced or distributed by Disney's Buena Vista Motion Picture Group, including The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Chasing Amy. In 2003, Criterion departed from its usual pricing structure when it released the short film Night and Fog at US$14.95, presumably due to the film’s brief running time.
In 2004, Criterion released a DVD holiday gift set exclusively on Amazon.com, with 282 discs at a cost of about US$5,000.00. It was not a complete set of the Criterion releases at that point, since Criterion no longer had the rights to certain films. It was however, one of the biggest and most expensive DVD products available to consumers.
Since there is significant demand for out-of-print Criterion releases, they are often bootlegged and these bootleg editions are sometimes advertised as Asian editions. The Criterion company has urged buyers to proceed with caution when shopping for out-of-print DVDs, and on its Web site offers advice on how to spot bootlegs. The company also points out that it has never issued Asian editions. Bootlegs of many out-of-print Criterion editions have been seen on Internet auction sites, while legitimate discs can command prices far in excess of their original retail price.