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'E.T.' . . . Call Sears : Giant Retailer Uses Giant Film to Ring in Holiday Ratings, Shoppers

November 27, 1991|DANIEL CERONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Many TV analysts are not convinced that "E.T." is the Thanksgiving beacon Sears and CBS hope for. Joel Segal, executive vice president of national broadcasting for the advertising agency McCann-Erickson in New York, pointed to the record number of "E.T." videocassettes sold: "That's 14 million homes that probably won't tune in, right there. Why would you watch 'E.T.' on network television if you can watch it uninterrupted and unexpurgated on your own?"

" 'E.T.' has already made its rounds in theaters and on video," observed Hal Vogel, an entertainment analyst for Merrill Lynch in New York. "How much merchandising can (Sears) really expect to do? I mean, 1992 is going to be the 10th year 'E.T.' has been out. It's been so exposed that there's a real question mark as to how important this telecast will be."

Local Sears outlets that have set up their in-store "E.T." displays early report a different story.

"I think once the movie gets rerun, the kinship that kids feel toward E.T. will return," said Allen Oblow, manager of the Sears store in Burbank. "I know as we were setting up here, there were an awful lot of kids standing and pointing their fingers saying, 'E.T.! E.T.!' So I think that relationship is going to be reunited."

MCA has drawn some heat from the video industry for its decision to sell "E.T." videocassettes exclusively in Sears stores at a new list price of $14.99. Since its 1988 release, "E.T." has carried a $24.95 suggested list price. MCA is offering video retailers and distributors the chance to exchange extra copies of "E.T." for credit.

"I'm not real happy about this," said Gary H. Messenger, owner of North American Video, which has nine video stores in North Carolina. "The supply side of this industry has usurped and bypassed the traditional video market and given an exclusive to someone who has never, ever been there to support the video business when it was down. This is the time of year the traditional video outlet, the video retailer, would like to have 'E.T.' on their shelves."

Weitzner at MCA defended his studio's decision: "I must tell you, the number of shoppers who will be in Sears stores during the holiday period boggles the mind. Now, don't you think from a merchandising point of view it makes a great deal of sense to have a company like Sears committed with its marketing clout to promote and push our videos, rather than have them sit there as just one of hundreds and hundreds of titles that you find in a video store?"

Although Sears won't divulge how many shoppers pass through its doors during the holidays, the company does claim that millions of people a day shop at Sears and that the retail chain with its various subsidiaries does business with 70% of American households.

"While it's beneficial for the title and the store, I don't think it's beneficial for the industry," said a video marketing executive for another studio. "I don't think 'The Wizard of Oz' should only be available at JC Penney, because what would it do to the retailers and distributors who have supported us over the years? (MCA) is certainly not creating good will."

If "E.T." does get huge ratings and move videocassettes, expect to see more marriages between movie studios and Fortune 500 companies. One network executive suggested that such deals may be an emerging trend, explaining that in this depressed economy, "there are going to be a lot of new ways that the networks will find to attract audiences and fund shows. And advertiser-supported shows are certainly one of those alternatives."

Weitzner said several companies have already contacted him about acquiring broadcast rights to other MCA titles. In the past few years, Sears, K mart and McDonald's have joined forces with TV networks to market their products, but this time Sears has shifted the traditional balance of power.

"In all those other campaigns," CBS' Tortorici said, "the heart of the deal was the network perspective: 'It's premiere week, how do we get more people to watch our network?' This time the perspective is from the retailer side: 'OK, it's a holiday, how do we get more people in the store?

"Everybody says advertiser-sponsored programs are too expensive--until they work. When they work, they're the biggest bargain in the world. They're high risk and high stakes."

* A HOLIDAY FEAST

In addition to turkey and dressing, Thanksgiving also includes a television lineup of parades, series marathons, football games and classic movies. F13

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