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Special-interest Videos Make Scene

July 05, 1986|CLARKE TAYLOR

NEW YORK — Mitchell Hanson was wandering through a maze of prerecorded videocassette tapes on display, looking a bit dazed by all the non- movie titles he saw: "how-to" tapes on everything from home repair to Texas honky-tonk dancing; tapes on "self-improvement" through subliminal persuasion; instructional tapes geared to passing college board exams; "entertainment" tapes such as "The Modern Man's Guide to Dating in the '80s."

Hanson was no video neophyte browsing for the first time through a rental store. He owns such a store, Northwest Video, in Canaan, Conn. (pop. 2,000), and he was attending a trade show. But he said he had no idea until now that such a broad range of "non-theatrical" tapes existed.

"These kinds of tapes now make up less than 1% of the 2,000 titles I have in stock, but more and more of my customers are asking for them," Hanson said. "I came here to find out what's available, where it is, and how I can get it. Obviously, this is the future of the (home video) business. . . . After all, you can only push so many 'Rambos.' "

Hanson was one of about 4,000 retailers, distributors and producers from around the country and abroad who converged recently at Manhattan's brand-new Jacob K. Javits Convention Center for what was billed as "the first ever" International Home Video Market devoted to non-theatrical or "special-interest" video.

"The time was right, because the market is exploding with the birth of this kind of programming," said Eliot Minsker, chairman of Knowledge Industry Publications, producer of the four-day market for its two sponsors, Bell Howell/Columbia Paramount Video and VCA/Technicolor.

Referring to both New York and Los Angeles as "video cities," Minsker said the market was held here because of New York's publishing base and its proximity to Europe.

Minsker likened the market's foreign visitors (estimated at about 10% of the registrants) to those in the U.S. video industry who, like Hanson, live outside New York or Los Angeles and are here "looking for access" to the growing non-theatrical video market.

"There are simply not enough theatrical films produced to satisfy consumer demand," said Minsker, echoing views expressed by many at the market. Noting a dramatic increase in home ownership of VCRs at a time of declining prices, Minsker forecast 1986 rental and sales of prerecorded programming of $6.5 billion.

It was evident at the market's more than 150 exhibits that the best-known non-theatrical tapes, such as the top-selling "Jane Fonda's Workout," and other health and fitness and how-to tapes, represent merely the tip of an iceberg.

Yet the conventional wisdom here was that many within the industry, especially retailers and consumers, haven't realized what lies beneath the surface, a view borne out by the puzzled look on the faces of many of those viewing the exhibits.

"This industry has caused a lot of confusion. There's a lot of people walking around here scratching their heads," said Susan Brooks, who came from Boulder, Colo., to interest retailers and consumers in subscribing to her Quality Life Video service, a "confidential" listing of non-theatrical titles totaling 7,000 in 800 categories.

According to market exhibitors such as Brooks, the most active group on hand consisted of producers and representatives of publishing companies--such as new "video publishers" Esquire Video, Scholastic Productions and McGraw-Hill Productions--that had already caught on to the smell of success.

Producers spotted ranged from veteran Broadway impresario Alexander H. Cohen to Los Angeles-based would-be film maker Jeff Martin, who was trying to sell an idea for a videotape on "How to Buy a Used Car."

"What we have here is a new information/entertainment forum that's just beginning to reach its potential," said Dana Beth Ardi, vice president, McGraw-Hill Productions, pointing out that companies such as hers now will spend from $25,000 to $500,000 on non-theatrical home video production. "The variety of these tapes appeals to the American mentality of freedom of choice and allows us to target specialized markets," she said.

"We can now get our basic salvation message into millions of homes, via video stores as well as Christian book stores, instead of only to about 150,000 Evangelical churches," said Duane Smith, a sales representative with the 35-year-old, Muskegum, Mich.-based Gospel Films.

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