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Having Conquered the Box Office, 'Titanic' Heads for the Video Store

Movies: Analysts say the ticket champ could sail to the top of the list of all-time best-selling videos.

July 10, 1998|THOMAS K. ARNOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Can James Cameron's "Titanic" become the king of the video world?

Having conquered "Star Wars" at the box office to emerge as the biggest grossing film ever, the Oscar-winning epic goes on sale Sept. 1 on video. Industry executives believe that as many as 30 million copies could be sold, which would put it on par with Walt Disney Co.'s "The Lion King," the all-time video champion.

"Why not? It's the biggest movie of all time, and it has a broad demographic appeal," said industry analyst Tom Adams of Adams Media Research in Carmel Valley. "It has great repeatability, obviously, given its long run at No. 1 at the box office and the fact that there are teenage girls who have seen it dozens of times."

Nonetheless, Paramount Pictures' home video division is launching the video at a suggested minimum price of $19.95, with a huge $50-million promotional push. Eric Doctorow, president of Paramount Pictures' worldwide home video, says the company is taking nothing for granted.

Among the challenges in making "Titanic" the all-time video hit:

* At more than three hours, the film will be released on two videocassettes. That means "Titanic" will cost about $7 more than such big live-action titles as "Independence Day" and "Forrest Gump," Adams said.

* "The Lion King" and most other big video sellers have been aimed at children. Among adult-themed videos, the top seller is 1996's "Independence Day," from 20th Century Fox. Nearly 22 million copies have been shipped.

* An overall slowdown in the consumer market for videos. After years of double-digit gains, video sales finished 1997 down slightly from the previous year.

* With analysts and other video industry observers predicting that "Titanic" could sell up to 30 million copies, expectations are so high that anything short of that might be seen as a disappointment.

Doctorow is aware of the risks; that's why Paramount Pictures plans such an extensive marketing campaign. "You don't think about the expectations," he said. "You do the best job you can. And to the extent that people think there is an extraordinary amount of pressure on us, there certainly is pressure on us, but you really don't focus on that. You put that aside and focus more on your goals."

Since its theater release in December, the film has grossed a record $588 million domestically and $1.7 billion worldwide. Along the way, it won 11 Academy Awards, including best picture and a directing Oscar for Cameron.

The film was financed jointly by 20th Century Fox and Paramount. In video, Paramount will release "Titanic" domestically, with Fox selling it internationally.

Paramount's $50-million promotional campaign, the largest for a home video release in the studio's history, begins in mid-August and continues through year-end.

Ads will run in People, Time, Entertainment Weekly, Seventeen and other magazines. Numerous TV and radio spots will run through the year-end holidays.

Cosmetic company Max Factor, in a joint promotion, will target women with "Titanic"-inspired lipstick and nail polish, including the "Tina Earnshaw Fall '98 Color Collection," named after the movie's makeup artist. Another promotional partner is Sprint.

One rule Paramount is breaking is that the bigger the film, the more promotional partners the studio lines up to help sell the video. Most big releases marketed for sale to consumers have a half-dozen or more promotional partners and rebate offers. Last year, Warner Home Video released "Batman and Robin" with eight partners, including Hamburger Helper.

But with "Titanic," two's the limit, Doctorow said. "We wanted to make sure the promotional partners we selected were complementary to the movie and would give us the opportunity to offer consumers something that would be relevant," he said.

Already, some of the nation's big video retailers are gearing up for "Titanic's" release.

Joe Pagano, vice president of movies and music for the 300-store Best Buy chain, predicts "Titanic" will be the largest-selling video in the chain's history.

Pagano says he plans to order "hundreds of thousands" of copies. "On our radar, it would have to go with 'The Lion King' as far as initial placement," he said.

Pagano said advance sales of the movie, which Best Buy will sell at a discounted price he would not disclose, will begin later this summer. The retailer expects demand to continue through the holiday season and well into next year.

Pagano said the video offers three major promotional opportunities: At the time of its debut, then at Christmastime and again at Valentine's Day.

John Thrasher, video vice president of Tower Records & Video of West Sacramento, said each of Tower's stores will receive an average of 400 "Titanic" videotapes.

"I think without question it will be a tremendous title," he said. "I don't know if it will be the biggest seller of all time, but it's certainly going to rank right up there."

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