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Bracing for a Tornado of a Sales Season

More movies than ever are being bought, not rented. The end of the year is bringing the biggest titles.

August 25, 1996|Donald Liebenson | Donald Liebenson is a Chicago-based freelancer who writes about home video

Finding just the right video gift this holiday season should be anything but an impossible mission. Studios and distributors plan to blow consumers away with a staggering array of summer blasts, family favorites, enhanced editions of beloved classics, re-priced rental hits and quirky collectibles.

Industry observers and retailers predict sales during this crowded fourth quarter will take off, well, to infinity and beyond. It has been a long-fought campaign to change people's perceptions of video as something to buy and not just rent, and in recent years it has begun to pay off, especially in the lucrative period between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31.

Video sales have doubled since 1991, according to New York- based management consultant firm Alexander & Associates. Last year's roster of videos priced to be sold (rather than priced for rental), which included "The Santa Clause," "Batman Forever" and "Apollo 13," amounted to an increase in volume of more than 13% over the previous year.

Retailers are even more optimistic about this year's lineup. "We think it's going to be hugely successful," said Brian Regan, special projects coordinator for Virgin Entertainment Group. "There are marquee titles in every genre that will generate traffic into the store and create a windfall across the board."

Summer films will not play as quantitative a role as they did last year, when seven of the season's top 10 films were made available for sale or rent. But at least two are among the year's biggest box-office hits and their being released for sell-through certifies them as events.

In stormchaser lingo, Warner Home Video's Oct. 1 release of "Twister," which has grossed more than $240 million domestically, for the suggested retail price of $22.96, ranks as an F-5.

Paramount Home Video is mounting its largest campaign ever--topping its efforts on behalf of "Forrest Gump"--in support of the Nov. 12 release of "Mission: Impossible," which will retail for $19.98.

These releases are illustrative of how the sell-through market has expanded beyond family films, which have traditionally driven the market. One of this year's surprise successes was the consumer demand for the R-rated "Waiting to Exhale."

"So many people are buying videos now," said Cynthia Di Ruscio, manager of Vide-O-Lympix in Huntington Beach. "It's such a huge market compared to two years ago. It's so nice to see studios recognizing that there is a market for these films."


Box office is no longer the prime consideration in whether to release a movie to sell-through. Star power is also a factor. "Mission: Impossible" set a new domestic record for the biggest Memorial Day weekend opening. But the decision to release it at sell-through had as much to do with Tom Cruise as it did box-office grosses.

"Of the summer movies coming to video at sell-through, this is the only one with a major, major star," said Paramount executive vice president of sales and marketing Jack Kanne. "Certainly any vehicle with Tom Cruise draws attention, and with his new movie opening in December ["Jerry Maguire"], he's going to be everywhere."

To further heighten his presence, Paramount, as part of its promotion, will reprice "Top Gun," "Days of Thunder" and "The Firm" to $5.99 each, suggested retail, for a limited time.

But what would Christmas be without celebrating "Independence Day"? Though there is no official word yet from FoxVideo, retailers are optimistic that the phenomenally popular film will invade stores by Thanksgiving.

Dennis Fabrizi, a buyer for the 20-20 Video Chain, said, "I heard rumors before 'Independence Day' was released theatrically that it would be a fourth-quarter sell-through title. Anytime a movie makes that much money, you can bet it will be a sell-through title as soon as they can realistically get it into video stores."

Though video is still a hit-driven industry, an unprecedented breadth of non-theatrical programming is coming in the next four months to attract niche audiences and budding collectors. For Generation X-ers, FoxVideo debuts on Sept. 24 a three-volume "X-Files" box set. Oct. 1 is the premiere of the concert videos "The Grateful Dead: Ticket to New Year's" on Monterey Home Video, and the Irish production of "Riverdance" and the 10th-anniversary concert of "Les Miserables" on the Columbia TriStar Home Video label. Nostalgic baby boomers can rediscover "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" available for the first time on video Oct. 22 from New Kid Home Video.

Yesterday's new release is tomorrow's collectible. Among the former rental titles to be repriced for less than $20 include "The Usual Suspects" and "Seven" (Sept. 10), "The American President" (Sept. 24), "Now and Then" and "Home for the Holidays" (Oct. 8), "The Bridges of Madison County" (Oct. 15), John Cassavettes' "Shadows" and "Faces" (Oct. 29) and "Mr. Holland's Opus" (Nov. 12).

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