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PRIVATE LIVES: HOME ENTERTAINMENT, FAMILY ACTIVITIES : VIDEO : It's Television, Once Removed : High profile made-for-TV movies, miniseries and hit shows enjoy profitable afterlife on tape.

February 11, 1996|Susan King | Susan King is a Times staff writer

It used to be that if there was nothing on television, you could go to the local video store and rent a movie. Now if there's nothing on television, you can still watch TV, courtesy of your local video stores.

Stores are now filled with television movies, miniseries, series and cable movies, and there's more product on the way, including a Feb. 27 release of a deluxe gift set of Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice" ($100), just a month after the miniseries aired on A&E.

A sampling of other video releases: On Tuesday, CBS Video released six episodes of the outrageous British comedy series "Absolutely Fabulous," which airs on Comedy Central ($20 each). Two weeks later, Republic will bring out Raul Julia's final film, "Down Came a Blackbird," which aired last fall on Showtime (under $100). PRICE CQ? And on March 12, FoxVideo releases six episodes of the cult Fox series "The X-Files" ($15 each).

Glenn Ross, senior vice president of Hallmark Home Entertainment, said retailers have become more amenable to carrying TV videos over the past two years.

"You started to see a much greater desire among renters to rent event television they might have missed," he said. "That translated to retailers who started realizing that a TV movie or miniseries that had a good deal of promotion behind it has a great awareness among consumers, and just because it was on TV doesn't mean they got to see it."

Especially if the movies aired on cable. "The thing that's happening is you have the cable companies like HBO and Showtime making their own movies," Ross said. "Those films have as much promotion behind them [as network films], but don't have anywhere near the exposure. So when it gets out on the shelves, there are a lot of renters who have heard about them, but they haven't seen it. I think retailers understand that, and they know that they rent."

Bob Finlayson, vice president of communications at the Video Software Dealers Assn., said the marketing pays off. "When you go to a video store, you may have 4000 to 15,000 titles staring you in the face, so if you have heard of one, something clicks in your head," he said.

John Thrasher, the buyer for Tower Video, isn't completely sold on the viability of TV videos. He carefully picks and chooses titles and tends to purchase more TV product for sell-through than rental.

"There are some major miniseries that have done well [in rental] like 'The Stand,' " based on the Stephen King best-seller, he said. "HBO product usually does quite well for us. But there is almost a glut of TV product that's out there right now. I think it's a little overkill, particularly the price that people are requesting [to purchase the videos]. It's hard to justify paying the same price for a TV movie as a theatrical film that cost, like, $30 [million] or million to make."

About 30% of the videos carried for sale by Virgin Megastores are television-related. "Consider the breadth of just Paramount's 'Star Trek' genre," said Brian Regan, spokesperson for Virgin Retail Group. "We carry all the original 'Star Trek' library, both in the vidoe format as well as in box sets." Generally, Regan said, "We bring in at least one copy of most [TV] titles that come out. But I would say the most popular titles are classic TV--'The Honeymooners,' 'I Love Lucy,' as well as BBC titles. 'Absolutely Fabulous' was probably among the top three biggest sellers for us last year. I wouldn't have numbers, but I would say for us it was a phenomenal performer."

Though most of the videos at Virgin are available at prices for the consumer to buy, the stores do stock the videos priced up to $150 that are aimed at the rental market. "It's frequently the same type of home entertainment aficionado who has gone to laser and is spending a minimum of $40 for a laser disc," Regan said. "Those same people who have video libraries at home want the title on their shelves and in some cases a title doesn't go to sell-through for a considerably longer period of time. So for the prestige titles, there are people who will pay $50 or $90. Of course, it is a very small percentage."

Unlike Ross, Bob Sigman, president and CEO of Republic Entertainment, said that the TV movie market has dried up, "driven mostly by the fact that to put a product into the rental market costs a minimum of $250,000 to $300,000 because you have distributor mailer pages. You have trade pages. You have all the advertising funds. So for the economy alone, the market no longer supports in unit purchases of TV movies."

But there are exceptions. Republic's "Hallmark Hall of Fame" franchise is "well-received by our consumers as quality programming and a very high cast. You have much higher profile of talent."

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