Success of the film "La Bamba," and the demographics it represents, has video retailers laying out the bienvenidos mat for Spanish-speaking video viewers. Although Columbia Pictures has yet to announce a release date for a videocassette of the hit movie, which chronicles the life of 1950s Latino rock 'n' roll star Richie Valens, anticipation of it has helped crystallize commercial interest in the Spanish-language video market.
Several chains are opening stores with bilingual signs and staff in Latino areas, while film studios are releasing a growing number of video movies with subtitles and even soundtracks dubbed in Spanish.
The average Latino household with a videocassette recorder rents 10 videotapes a month, compared to six tapes a month for the average Anglo household, said Maria Hickman, director of videoclub operations for Erol's, headquartered in Springfield, Va. The nation's largest chain of company-owned video stores, Erol's has opened 14 stores in predominantly Latino neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington.
"It started about two years ago," said Jack Schember, managing editor of Video Store magazine. "In 1985, I don't think there were any companies releasing (Spanish-language) videocassettes. Now there are about 40."
Wholesale sales to retailers of Spanish-language videotapes reached $6.5 million last year at Houston-based East Texas Distributing, the largest distributor of Latino videotapes to retailers, and should grow at least 30% this year, said Jorge Quintanilla, sales and marketing manager of Latino videos.
Three problems have hampered sales of Latino videos, Quintanilla said. Store buyers often are unfamiliar with the Latino market and buy all their videos from one studio instead of buying the hits from each of several studios. Stricter enforcement of U.S. immigration laws has made illegal aliens wary of filling out paperwork for video rental cards. "It's just fear; they have a lot to lose, so they don't rent a tape," he said.
Advertising by studios has been minimal, even for films like "Arizona," one of last year's biggest box-office hits in Mexico. "It did very well in the States," Quintanilla said. "It would have done better at the consumer level with greater awareness."
Portland, Ore.-based National Video is launching the largest assault on the Latino market, having concluded on March 31 an agreement with Los Angeles-based Univisa to open 600 franchise stores by 1993 in Latino areas nationwide, said Dennis Steinman, director of National Video's Latino division. All signs, training programs and advertising for the stores will appear in both Spanish and English, while at least 1,000 of each store's 3,000 titles will also be in Spanish.