The outpouring of grief attending the death of Diana has not, thus far, translated into widespread demand for videos about the princess, retailers are saying.
Video distributors, however, anticipate that this could change once the public's shock and sadness have worn off and are either preparing for the marketplace's new video tributes or re-promoting previously released titles.
MPI Home Video expects to release two specially produced programs Friday with up to four hours of footage chronicling Diana's life and the investigation of the accident that killed her and her companion Dodi al Fayed and driver Henri Paul. "Diana" will be a retrospective of the princess' triumphant and often-tumultuous life as a member of the royal family. "Farewell, the Princess" will document her funeral.
On Sept. 20, MVP Video will release "Diana: The People's Princess," a 50-minute tribute that will include news footage and interviews with "royal watchers" and will remember her as a compassionate and tireless charity worker. A percentage of the sales will go to the Princess Diana Memorial Fund.
In October, BBC Video, distributed in this country by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, will release "Diana: The People's Princess Remembered." All profits will go to charities, including the Princess of Wales Trust.
Culled from the BBC archives, this intimate profile will chronicle Diana's early years, her royal wedding, her family life and her commitment to charitable causes, as well as personal tributes. The video will also include highlights of her controversial "Panorama" interview, in which she discussed her troubled marriage, and coverage of the accident and the funeral.
Simitar Entertainment has a head start on the competition with the 1996 release "The Story of Princess Di," which is told by Nigel Blundel and Susan Blackhall, authors of "The Fall of the House of Windsor." The video combines news footage and reenactments in its portrayal of her ill-fated marriage to Prince Charles.
Some retailers doubt this type of more sensational programming is how the public will wish to remember the princess. "There is considerable interest in Diana," said Meg Johnson, the video buyer at Vidiots in Santa Monica, "but people are watching news reports as they happen rather than renting videos about the past.
"The only request I've had was for the video about the Royal Wedding, which is long out of print. We don't have a copy anymore, but when we did, it only rented three times."
Ken Dorrance, owner of Video Station in Alameda, agreed that the nature of Diana's death does not lend itself to the kind of retail exploitation that traditionally follows the death of a controversial or beloved personality, such as Jackie Onassis, Richard Nixon and, more recently, James Stewart and Robert Mitchum. "I would feel funny building any kind of display to capitalize on it," he said.
Though Diana has been the primary topic of discussion among his employees and customers, he said, there have been scant requests for videos about her. "I don't think it has hit home," he said. "[Her death] came so suddenly and so shockingly. . . . Maybe when the funeral is over there will be more interest."
It is a different, albeit "difficult" story at the Continental Shop, a British specialty store in Santa Monica. "It has been a very subdued week, not the usual bright and cheerful," said manager Michael Carlson. But demand is especially high for copies of that Royal Wedding video. "Fortunately, we purchased quite a few," Carlson said.
Interest in Diana videos is more pronounced in multimedia chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders that next week especially will be dominated by printed tributes to Diana and coverage of the funeral, according to Joan Villa, editor-at-large for the trade publication Video Business.
"It might take a week for the wave to hit home video," she said. "I think people will want to remember Diana with a positive video tribute. . . . When Elton John sings 'Candle in the Wind' at the funeral, people are going to want to keep that."
Peter Busch, the video buyer for the Musicland Stores Corp., which operates the Suncoast Motion Picture Co. chain, said there is customer demand for new titles about the princess. "We are working to meet that interest as soon as this new product is available," he said.
In the meantime, Dianaphiles can still order copies of the self-explanatory "Royalty and Fashion: The Gowns and Glitz of Princess Diana and England's Royal Women" on the Chicago-based Questar label. MPI's catalog also includes the BBC video "Charles and Diana: For Better or Worse," a chronicle of Charles and Diana's first decade of marriage, and "The Windsors," a four-volume box set on the monarchy.