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Home Video Executes Lure Of X-rated Theaters

May 10, 1985|DENNIS HUNT | Times Staff Writer

Community organizations in neighborhoods around the country have long been complaining about X-rated theaters, branding them palaces of degeneracy and plotting to close them down. Now, the VCR boom is doing what these organizations couldn't.

Rather than going to theaters, porn buffs are buying and renting X-rated films for home use. Apparently, it's been mainly couples who've chosen home viewing over attending theaters.

According to a USA Today survey, porn movie houses have been going out of business at a startling rate--15 a month since 1983. Two years ago, 70% of porn profits were generated by theaters. In a dramatic reversal, now videocassette sales account for 60% of profits.

There are 500 X-rated theaters in the United States, down from a peak of 780. The forecast is for this decline to continue until just a few hundred are left, mostly in downtown urban areas, for the convenience of that most prevalent customer, the businessman on his lunch hour.

So now anti-porn factions are focusing on video outlets. Legal action has been taken against dealers in various cities around the country, most recently in Memphis, Tenn., where FBI agents raided 24 video stores, invoking laws prohibiting interstate porn traffic.

NEW AND COMING RELEASES: Due out shortly: "Falling in Love," starring Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep (Paramount, $79.95), and the Chuck Norris movie, "Missing in Action" (MGM/UA, $79.95). . . . In mid-June, RCA/ Columbia will release "Starman," featuring Jeff Bridges; the Dudley Moore comedy; "Mickie and Maude;" and "Birdy" with Matthew Modine.

"Birdy," the acclaimed offbeat movie about a young man who thinks he's a bird, hasn't done well at the box office. But Tri-Star, which released it, hasn't give up. This month, "Birdy" is being promoted by new ad campaign. But before this campaign has a chance to really work, the movie will be available in videocassette. But, observed a Tri-Star executive, "Having it on videocassette at the same time doesn't matter; some people will still go to the theaters to see it."

Woody's Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo," released in March, will be available on videocassette in August on Vestron. . . . Other June releases: the Goldie Hawn comedy, "Protocol," and "2010-The Year We Made Contact."

Karl is offering "Swim Baby Swim" ($39.98), an instructional guide to water safety. It's everything you wanted to know about teaching kids to swim. . . . For "60 Minutes" fans there's "60 Minutes" (CBS-Fox, $39.98), featuring four segments, including Harry Reasoner's feature on the use of drugs at race tracks.

TECH NEWS: Though it's being thoroughly thrashed by VHS in the VCR market, Beta isn't dead yet. Sony and Sanyo, among other companies, are trying to pump new life into Beta with Super Beta machines, which boast a 20% gain in picture resolution.

In June, Sanyo is introducing a Super Beta VCR, featuring hi-fi sound, for just under $700--relatively expensive in contrast to the price of the standard Beta VCRs, which cost as little as $300. Optimistic Sanyo spokesman Mark Ollins said: "There's enough people around who appreciate high quality in video, so Super Beta may catch on. It would create more interest in the whole Beta format."

Recently, the Super Beta format received a rave in Video magazine, which called it "a format enhancement so great that it redefines the capabilities of half-inch consumer VCRs."

But Super Beta has its detractors. At a Las Vegas electronics show a few months ago there were reports that Sony's Super Beta didn't produce a significantly better picture, especially when used with a standard TV set.

What about Super VHS? There are unconfirmed rumors that a Super VHS system offering much better picture quality is in the works. But no one knows if or when VHS machines will be available. This just gives harried Beta manufacturers one more thing to worry about.

CHARTS: The following charts were compiled by Billboard magazine.

TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, SALES

1. "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (Paramount).

2. "Jane Fonda's Workout" (Karl Video).

3. "Gone With the Wind" (MGM/UA).

4. "The Terminator" (Thorn/EMI).

5. "Lionel Richie All Night Long" (Brockman).

TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, RENTALS

1. "The Terminator" (Thorn/EMI).

2. "Revenge of the Nerds" (CBS-Fox).

3. "Police Academy" (Ladd/Warner Video).

4. "Bachelor Party" (CBS-Fox).

5. "Country" (Touchstone).

SNIPPETS: May's best-selling videocassettes, several distributors predict, will be "The Karate Kid," "Dune," "The Cotton Club" and "City Heat."

Commercials on prerecorded videocassettes? Some experts predict that sponsored video will be prominent in the future of home video.

But the future is now. "Eat to Win," based on the popular book by Dr. Robert Haas and released by Karl Video, is sponsored by Red Lobster restaurants. But the ads aren't intrusive. First of all, the commercial message is brief and at the beginning, which means, of course, no commercial breaks.

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