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Studios Compete in the Dating Game

31 Jul, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

The jockeying for primo fourth-quarter dates has begun for the big spring and summer theatricals. And this year, the catch phrase seems to be the early bird catches the worm.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is releasing X-Men: The Last Stand Oct. 3, and Paramount Home Entertainment is following with the DreamWorks Animation title Over the Hedge Oct. 17. The last “X-Men” movie, also from Fox, hit DVD at the end of November 2003, while DreamWorks has traditionally released its big animated family movies in November as well.

What gives? Each year, studio DVD marketers grapple with the same complex issue: given the worsening shelf-space crunch at retail, come out too early and you might not last until Christmas; come out too late, and you miss all those early holiday shoppers.

With X-Men: The Last Stand and Over the Hedge, Fox and Paramount are clearly taking the former gambit. They're coming out early, during the first few weeks of the lucrative holiday shopping season, and banking on a successful marketing strategy to sustain demand and convince retailers to keep those two titles front-and-center despite an overwhelming crop of competitors in their wake, including Cars, Superman Returns, The Da Vinci Code and, of course, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the year's No. 1 movie.

Paramount and DreamWorks are taking a novel approach. They are loading a bunch of compelling “hidden content” on the Over the Hedge DVD that consumers won't be able to access until Nov. 28. Heck, they're not even announcing what the bonus material is, hoping the element of surprise will give sales a second boost.

As for Fox, no one's talking — but my hunch is Mike Dunn and his team have some tricks up their sleeves to make sure X-Men maintains its visibility throughout the holiday season, as well.

Given the increasingly competitive environment and the flattening of sales, the business of marketing DVDs has become first and foremost a dating game. And no one gets the girl by sitting back and hoping for the best.

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