Paramount's announcement last week that a Diet Pepsi commercial would be included on its "Top Gun" videocassettes--a first for home video--has raised the specter of commercials on home video.
Executives with some of the leading home-video companies said this week that although they have no immediate plans to add commercials to their tapes, most would if the right deal came along.
Will "Top Gun," due March 11, usher in an era of ads on videocassettes? Will you have to wade through commercials while watching movies on your VCR--spoiling the luxury of commercial-free home-video viewing?
The "Top Gun" commercial apparently is the beginning of a trend. Paramount was first, but not because other companies were indifferent to the idea.
MCA Home Video President Gene Giaquinto said his company might have been first to break the commercial-on-home-video barrier with its spring release of "Legal Eagles," but the deal was never consummated. "This seems to be the wave of the future," he said. "We're still exploring the possibilities."
Peter Pirner, president of Media Home Entertainment, agreed: "It's inevitable, an unstoppable trend."
However, industry leader CBS-Fox has no plans at all to add commercials to its movies, insisted spokesman Paul Wagner.
Karl-Lorimar's executive vice president Court Shannon said his company is proceeding cautiously: "We want to wait until there's more research before we plunge into this."
Karl-Lorimar, the leader in non-movie programming, also pioneered sponsorship in home video. So far, though, none of its titles have included a separate commercial. The ads have been subtle, such as mentions on the package or use of the product in the program.
Karl-Lorimar's "Eat to Win," released in mid-1984, broke the ad barrier. The Red Lobster restaurant was a partial sponsor. In 1985, the "Mr. Boston Official Video Bartender's Guide" was the first to have a full sponsor--Glenmore Distilleries Co. Now the company has a special division devoted to finding commercial sponsors for its non-movie programs.
Advertisers, always on the lookout for new outlets, have been eyeing the booming home-video market for some time. According to Media's Pirner, one reason is that network TV continues to lose viewers to cable and home video: "Advertisers go where the crowds are. Home video is where the crowds are now."
For video companies, the advantage of adding commercials to movies is that the sponsor shares the advertising and promotion costs and helps, through product identification, increase exposure of the title. For instance, Pepsi will advertise the availability of "Top Gun" on certain TV commercials.
Naturally, the video companies are nervous about negative consumer reaction to commercials on home video. "There could be backlash," said MCA's Giaquinto. "You can't predict that. That's what every one is afraid of."
Other companies will carefully watch the reaction to the ad on "Top Gun." RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video president Robert Blattner predicted that the Diet Pepsi ad will encounter little consumer opposition. "It should work out fine," he said. "Remember, it's a special ad tailored to that movie. It's probably entertaining, too. I don't think too many people will object to it."
The placement of the ad in a home-video movie is apparently crucial. The "Top Gun" commercial will be at the beginning. What people would really object to, Giaquinto said, is a disruptive ad. "I couldn't imagine one in the middle of a movie," he said.
But consumers needn't worry just yet. That deluge of commercials on home video isn't likely to happen right away--if at all. RCA/Columbia's Blattner predicted that at least one more home-video movie would feature a commercial before the end of the year. But he also insisted that this phenomenon would be limited to a few major titles.
"If most movies that came out on home video had commercials, the value to the sponsors would be lost," he explained. "It wouldn't be special--the sponsor couldn't play it up big. What you'll see is a few commercials that match up well with a certain movie. But I don't think there will ever be a big flood of commercials."
NEW RELEASES: HBO/Cannon's "Back to School," starring Rodney Dangerfield, is out this week. It's expected to be a rental smash. The company is also releasing "Seize the Day," the drama based on the Saul Bellow novel and starring Robin Williams.
Also out this week: Paramount's "Extremities," which features, some say, Farah Fawcett's finest performance. . . . MGM/UA's "Fool for Love" stars Sam Shepard and Kim Basinger in a steamy drama about a love affair between a stepsister and stepbrother. Director Robert Altman's translation of Shepard's moody play into film got mixed reviews.