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Christmas Stocking

12 Dec, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

We're seeing an interesting phenomenon this fourth quarter: While most of the high-profile video releases are generating wads of money, we're not seeing records being broken almost every week, the way we did in the fourth quarter of 2001.

Indeed, except for Monsters, Inc. and Spider-Man, there's been no real mega-hit of the caliber of last year's Shrek, with the top-grossing theatrical blockbusters generating proportionately less on video — even with the DVD feeding frenzy that's going on at retail — than some of the smaller titles.

What's going on here? Is the bubble bursting?

Don't count on it. If last year was when DVD really took off, this is the year it's circling in orbit. DVD has made home video a true commodity business, and the peaks of the launch years have simply leveled off, as consumers buy DVDs the way they used to buy CDs.

People aren't rushing out to buy one hit title, all at once. They're going into Best Buy, or Wal-Mart, or Target, or even Blockbuster, and they're grabbing a handful of titles they want for their burgeoning movie libraries.

They're buying more DVDs, overall, with the narrow focus on the hit-of-the-week widening into a gaping “Man, can you believe all the cool stuff that's out there?”

Men In Black II isn't going to pull Joe Consumer into the store the way it would have last year. Instead, Joe's buying stuff for all the relatives who didn't have DVD players last Christmas, but do now. He may still get Men In Black II for himself, but he's in no hurry. It's not like there's going to be shortage, given the huge quantities Columbia TriStar shipped into the market in what industry observers are calling the “dump and run” strategy, perfected just last May by Warner Home Video with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

The hits are still selling huge quantities, especially on DVD, but their proportionate numbers may be down as consumers realize there's a heck of a lot of stuff out there. And if you check out stores that really emphasize gift editions, you'd be hard-pressed to spend $20 on Mr. Deeds.Here are some of the goodies I'd like to find under my Christmas tree:

  • Rhino Home Video's incredible four-disc set of musical highlights from the “Ed Sullivan Show,” including Elvis shaking his booty and the Beatles bringing down the house.
  • Universal's Back to the Future trio of films, which has aged remarkably well.
  • Paramount's gorgeously restored Sunset Boulevard, in which the packaging is so nice I want two just so I can put one away somewhere.
  • Disney's Walt Disney Treasures tins, especially the collection of vintage black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoons dating all the way back to “Steamboat Willie.”
  • New Line's top-of-the-line Lord of the Rings set, the one with five discs and some really cool bookends.
  • MGM's latest James Bond set—all special editions. Wow.
  • And then there are all the catalog titles bowing on DVD for the first time—too many to name, and getting more numerous as we approach the magic 40 percent penetration mark.

    No wonder there are no standouts. Who needs a spotlight-hogging high-wire act when the whole ceiling's been raised?

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