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Secondary product is a primary lifeline

10 Apr, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

As the home video business goes increasingly to sellthrough, the fate of secondary titles is becoming the $64,000 question. With the nation's consumers focused on the hits and now able to buy them as well as rent them, many analysts and observers have written off direct-to-video titles as a victim of the times. And yet ‘B' movies are showing remarkable resiliency, even as independent suppliers like Xenon Entertainment, York Entertainment and Ground Zero Entertainment say their business, was almost exclusively rental, is joining the transformation to sellthrough.

Tony Perez of Ground Zero summed it up neatly: Hip young men who put all their discretionary dollars into their cars are snapping up his low-budget urban flicks. Souped-up Hondas and Toyotas are being equipped with $2,500 DVD players, and those little shiny discs have become as much a part of bling-bling as thick gold rings and chains.

The big studios are also bent on keeping secondary titles alive, albeit in a different way. If the indies are playing to their target audience with increasingly narrow niche fare, the big boys are busy cobbling together revenue-sharing deals whose primary focus is no longer to increase copy depth on the hits, but to move units of ‘B' movies. Ironically, that's how the revenue-sharing game began in the first place, with Rentrak Corp. founder Ron Berger proposing the idea of sharing revenue on rental titles as a way to increase breadth rather than depth.

It's been nearly 10 years since Bill Mechanic, then head of the Walt Disney Co.'s home video division, said that without home video 85 percent of what Hollywood made would be snuff.

Obviously his words still ring true today. A decade later, you can still get loads of entertainment on both free and pay TV, but virtually all of it is big-box office stuff — some of it new, most of it old, but all of it with a successful theatrical track record.

The secondary stuff, well, that belongs to home video. And hopefully that won't change, because otherwise we will be in a cultural morass. As one pundit recently observed, “There's not that much difference between a ‘B' movie and a so-called art film. It all comes down to whether the critics have seen it on the festival circuit.”

That may be an oversimplification, but there's a fair amount of truth in what he says. If the secondary-title market goes away, I'm afraid we'd be throwing out an awful lot of wheat with the chaff.

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