The major promotion push behind the DVD release of Warner Bros.' summer blockbuster, "The Dark Knight," appears to have worked -- at least out of the gate.
The film, which brought in $530 million in ticket sales in the United States, sold nearly 3 million copies Tuesday, the first day of its DVD release in the U.S., Canada and Britain.
"The Dark Knight's" retail reception is reminiscent of strong first-day sales for "The Matrix" and "Titanic" (any debut of 1 million or more units is considered a home run). At the present rate, "Dark Knight" looks to be on pace to catch Paramount Pictures' "Iron Man," which sold 7.2 million units in its first week on store shelves this year.
Hollywood has been anxiously watching home video sales as the recession deepens because they are a major profit center for the studios. Nielsen VideoScan estimates that home video sales are off 5.2% this year as several movies that did well at the box office didn't sell as well as expected on DVD.
The studios have been hoping that the new Blu-ray high-definition format will help to spur the sluggish DVD market. As many as 25% to 30% of the "Dark Knight" discs sold -- or 600,000 copies -- were purchased in the Blu-ray format. That surpasses the previous record set by "Iron Man," which sold 260,000 Blu-ray discs upon its first day of release.
Studio executives say it's a sign that the format, which has been slow to take off, is gaining traction with consumers.
"It's encouraging," said Ron Sanders, president of Warner Home Video. "The Blu-ray sales of 'Dark Knight' were exceptionally strong and much higher than our projections."
By some estimates, DVD and Blu-ray disc sales outperformed other retail categories. While overall retail spending on Black Friday was up 3% compared with a year ago, home video sales rose 15%, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, an industry-supported trade group (DEG bases its estimates on surveys of retailers, studios and industry data providers).
But Nielsen VideoScan offered a more bleak assessment of Thanksgiving week, reporting that home video sales fell 8.2% compared with a year ago. However, Nielsen's data don't include sales from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which by some accounts represents 40% of the DVD market.
Retailers did brisk business in Blu-ray players. Researcher NPD Group reported that retailers sold 150,000 players, a 300% increase from a year ago, when two incompatible high-definition disc formats were duking it out for supremacy.
Blu-ray received a huge boost from Wal-Mart, which reportedly sold out of Magnavox players priced at $128.