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Holiday Sales a Crapshoot

26 Nov, 2007 By: Thomas K. Arnold

The fourth quarter is a little more than halfway over, with the pivotal Black Friday shopping blitz coming just before you read this — but a few days after I write this. On the cusp of the Thanksgiving holiday, ask any studio executive how the fourth quarter is doing, DVD sales-wise, and you're likely to get a shrug, accompanied by raised eyebrows and perhaps a not-knowing shake of the head.

This is the quarter of the summer blockbusters, with a trilogy of surefire hits — the third “Spider-Man,” “Shrek” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies — and all sorts of other high-profile theatrical fare as well, from The Simpsons Movie to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and The Bourne Ultimatum.

The hits that have come out have yielded mixed results. With the exception of Transformers, we haven't seen any boastful studio press release touting a new sales record for the first day, first week or first month.

Overall, sales have been strong enough to keep everyone in business, but there have been no home runs, no through-the-roof sales surprises. Hollywood is now turning its sights on December as make-or-break time, pointing to the abundance of hits slotted for the three Tuesdays before Christmas, as many as four on a single day.

The feeling — or, more accurately, the hope — is that consumers are waiting until the last minute to do their Christmas shopping, both to cut down on repeat trips to stores and to consolidate their DVD purchases to a time when they know everything that's worth buying will be out there on display.

This could be good or bad, depending on consumer behavior in those last critical weeks before Christmas. Keep in mind that the big theatrical hits don't just generate the highest sales numbers, they also drive consumers into stores. Once there, DVD marketers hope they will buy something else. If the cluster of hits slotted for December creates a DVD feeding frenzy, then there's a good chance we're looking at a record fourth quarter.

But if consumers are out of cash by the time they have accumulated all the big must-have hits, including the ones they didn't buy earlier, then we could be in for a blue Christmas.And I'm not talking about next-generation discs, either!

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