Warner Home Video's "The Green Mile," released on VHS and DVD on June 13, appears to have made more money its first week in the rental stores than any other film in history, breaking the record set just three months earlier by "The Sixth Sense."
The record rental revenues are part of a trend in which new video releases are starting to experience video store openings that rival their theatrical box-office release. In movie industry jargon, videos are now opening in "wide" rather than "limited" release.
"The Green Mile" earned an estimated $17.45 million in VHS and DVD rentals its first week of release, according to Video Store Magazine market research. That surpasses the $15-million record set by Buena Vista Home Entertainment's "The Sixth Sense" at the end of March.
Before "The Sixth Sense," "Enemy of the State," which was released about nine months earlier, held the record with $14.4 million in first-week rental revenue, according to Video Store Magazine.
"Enemy," in turn, had broken the mark set by Twentieth Century Fox's "There's Something About Mary," released about four months earlier, with $12.5 million in first-week rental revenue.
Recent video releases are breaking rental revenue records in part because of deals between studios and retailers that are putting more copies than ever on the store shelves. When "The Green Mile" debuted, there were 1.5 million copies available in the rental pipeline, according to Warner Home Video.
For the video stores, there's a downside: First-week rental revenue may be higher, but the demand dies down a lot quicker.
"You satisfy demand in a very short period of time," said Tower Records/Video Vice President John Thrasher. "It points to the changing industry rental model. Whereas rentals used to be steady for four to six weeks, now demand is saturated after the third week."
Retailers used to pay as much as $70 wholesale per newly released videocassette. But in late 1997, in hopes of revitalizing a flat videorental market, the studios began coming up with various programs to boost the number of hit releases in stores without store owners having to mortgage the farm.
Today, as much as 50% of the studios' video rental business is based on revenue sharing, in which retailers pay a token fee upfront and then share rental revenue with studios for a specified time.
Many other retailers who do not share revenue also pay less by participating in various programs that bring the average cost of new releases down to the $35-to-$40 range.
Mitch Koch, North American general manager for Buena Vista Home Entertainment, said the rental market has been "reinvigorated" by more copies of hit films.
"You've got major, major titles that now have the wind at their back and the consumers show up in droves," he said.
Stephanie Prange is managing editor of Video Store Magazine.