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THE MORNING BUZZ: DVD Extras Spark A U-Turn For Movies

12 Dec, 2001 By: Holly J. Wagner

Most of us are used to the theatrical-to-video route being a one-way street.

Movies go through their release cycles on a predictable schedule, from theatrical to video to pay-per-view.

Video boosters cheered in October when DVD sales reached parity with VHS in the United States and the United Kingdom, ending any lingering speculation that the DVD market is limited to technophiles and early adopters.

Now DVD is asserting its charms in theaters as well. How can we tell? Three words:

Heartbreakers and Monsters, Inc.

Thomas K. Arnold (who presently appears to be on the losing end of a box office bet with Stephanie Prange over Harry Potter vs. Monsters, Inc.) nearly washed my mouth out with soap one day last week when I suggested that if Monsters--which with $212.391 million in box office receipts to date has had a fine run--was performing as well as Disney expected, the studio would not be throwing computer-animated outtakes into a second-round theatrical release for the movie. Maybe Disney is happy with Monsters' take, but in my opinion the studio won't be happy with anything short of No. 1, especially against Shrek, Harry Potter and Rush Hour 2.

Video Store Magazine's market research department did a survey earlier in the year and came back with confirmation that viewers love the extras on DVD (VSM, Sept. 16-24). Queried about the top extras among consumers, 48 percent of responding rentailers said their customers like outtakes. Deleted scenes were a close second at 46 percent, while "making-of" featurettes scored 45 percent. Trailers and previews were in demand with 39 percent of rentailers; language options were a popular item among 37 percent of consumers and it falls off from there.

It took just a couple of months for that trend to sink in on studio marketers. Now, theatrical release of the DVD extras is the new tipoff that a movie is underperforming against its theatrical competition. Sure, they may position the maneuver as a way to test what consumers want to see on the subsequent video release, but don't kid yourselves.

Studios can't control box office numbers as easily as they can packaged media sales figures because there's still a middleman in the theatrical food chain—the theater operator.

What they can control is what they do to make a film more appealing to viewers before its theatrical run is over.

Studios have no choice but to listen to consumers. They've long done test screenings and tweaked elements of films before wide release to suit the broadest possible consumer palate.

They're listening again, but this time consumers are speaking DVD.



COUNTERPOINT

By Thomas K. Arnold

Holly, Holly, Holly! You're bright, you're witty, you're passionate about this business. But in your commentary, methinks you missed the mark.

You assert that Disney added deleted scenes to give Monsters, Inc., a renewed boost in theaters because the movie was "underperforming."

Wrong on both counts.

For starters, Disney has previously added deleted scenes and bloopers to the end credits of Toy Story 2 and A Bug's Life. What the studio did with Monsters, Inc.,. is thus par for the course, an encore of a savvy marketing strategy that's worked for Disney--and for fans of the studio's animated features--in the past.

The only reason the extra stuff wasn't there when the movie opened, the way I hear it, is simple: It wasn't ready. The movie was rushed to theaters in the nick of time, and polishing the bloopers took a backseat to finishing the movie.

Some online reviewers even took Disney to task for not including bloopers when the film bowed theatrically, including a reader-reviewer on E!Online, who complained, "I was disappointed in Pixar for not including the trademark bloopers that have been at the end of there movies like the two Toy Story movies and A Bug's Life. I even noticed that people in the theater were waiting during the credits for them."

As for Monsters, Inc. being an "underperformer," come on! The film's theatrical opening exceeded anyone's wildest expectations, coming as a surprise even to the folks at Disney. Indeed, Monsters, Inc. scored a bigger box office debut than any animated film ever released and then set another record its second week in theaters.

From an Associated Press story dated Nov. 12: "Monsters, Inc., which earned $45.5 million in its second weekend, chewed up the animated film record by crossing the $100 million mark in just nine days. With a total of $122.1 million in ticket sales, the computer-animated Pixar-Disney comedy fractured the previous record, set by the companies' Toy Story 2 in 1999."

I should also point out that in the ensuing weeks, Monsters, Inc.'s week-to-week dropoff, percentage-wise, wasn't nearly as steep as Harry Potter's would be. Again, let's turn to the Associated Press, which reported Dec. 4, "The huge box office for Harry Potter is pulling a vanishing act The fantasy earned $23.6 million to top the box office for a third straight week, but its earnings fell by nearly 59 percent from its $57.5 million take during the comparable three-day period of the extended Thanksgiving weekend."

As of Dec. 9, Monsters, Inc.'s domestic gross stands at $212.4 million—which is nothing to sneeze at.

One must also take into account the fact that the Harry Potter hype-machine has been roaring at full steam for more than a year, while Monsters, Inc., by comparison, is a "little" movie.

To put things in perspective, Monsters, Inc., is a phenomenal success, scoring more bucks at the box office than anyone would have predicted. Harry Potter, meanwhile, is doing about as expected, maybe even a little worse.

As for the bloopers, consider them the proverbial icing on the cake—from a tried and true recipe.



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