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Price War Heats Up Before Clinton Video Is Out

September 22, 1998|THOMAS K. ARNOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Even before President Clinton's grand jury testimony about his affair with Monica Lewinsky hit the airwaves on Monday, four home-video suppliers were already locking horns in a price war over the video release.

Their goal: to capture the lion's share of video sales, which could total millions of dollars. Since the product will be virtually the same, the prize in this contest will go to the company that is first on the stands, with price playing a central role.

Friday, Steeplechase Entertainment of Woodland Hills announced that it would release the unabridged four-hour deposition, which as a government document is in the public domain, in a double-cassette package retailing for $19.98. The boxed set, titled "The Starr Report: The Clinton Deposition," would hit stores within seven days of its television airing.

That day, MPI Home Video of Chicago said it would release its own double cassette for $14.98.

On Saturday, MVP Home Entertainment of Canoga Park stepped into the ring, promising that by Thursday, it would release the four-hour video, which it titled "The President's Testimony," for just $9.99.

This was followed by word that Monarch Home Video, a division of book and video wholesale giant Ingram Entertainment, would sell "The Presidency in Disgrace? Bill Clinton's Grand Jury Testimony" for $9.99 as well.

The latest volley came across Monday morning, just as millions of Americans were watching Clinton's testimony on the tube. Steeplechase announced it was cutting its price to $9.98.

"None of the product is even in the marketplace, yet the competition has already forced us to revisit our pricing strategy," said Steeplechase executive Herb Dorfman, who once ran video operations for Orion. "That's the competitive nature of the instant-publishing business." Dorfman estimates that 90 million homes were tuned to all or part of the Clinton testimony, giving the deposition roughly the same exposure that "Titanic" received in movie theaters. He's projecting that Steeplechase will sell upward of 200,000 units, assuming that it arrives in stores first.

"No one ever remembers who's second," Dorfman said, noting that his company is "taxing all our resources" to have the video in stores later this week.

Darryl Kanouse, sales manager for MVP, hopes to have 50,000 copies in stores by Thursday.

The video marketers are doing what they can to make their version stand out from the pack. Steeplechase is touting collaboration with award-winning documentary producer Douglas Keeney, whose TV programs are syndicated worldwide and broadcast on A&E and the History Channel.

MVP and MPI are banking primarily on their track record as instant-video publishers. MVP's video tribute to Princess Diana came out within a week of her death. MPI scored a big success in 1995 when it released "California vs. O.J. Simpson: The Closing Arguments and Verdict" within days of the much-hyped murder trial.

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Thomas K. Arnold is editor in chief of Video Store magazine, a trade weekly serving the home video industry.

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