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What's Selling on DVD? You Name It

25 Mar, 2004 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Independent home video suppliers haven't been hit nearly as hard by the transition from VHS rental to DVD sellthrough as many in our industry had predicted. Common sentiment was that in a commodity business, the emphasis on hit product would be even greater than it ever was when rental was king, and that meant much of the independent and so-called “secondary product” simply wouldn't move.

Some of our industry's best minds took it a step further: Hit by sagging video sales on the back end, indie filmmakers would have an increasingly tough time getting financing, and that would mean not only would these small films not sell, but they wouldn't get made in the first place.

The dominoes would fall, and when it was all over the big studios would rule the roost like never before. There would still be ‘B' product, but it would be low-budget stuff the studios picked up for a song.

Fortunately, for those of us who actually like movies, real movies, this hasn't happened. Indeed, the indies appear stronger than ever, with companies like First Look and Urban Works talking about higher budgets and bigger marketing campaigns.

This little stuff, you see, is selling.

Small films are still primarily rental, but there's enough of an audience to buy this stuff that even the biggest retail chains have taken notice. Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target — sure, they're spending big bucks with the studios, but they're also spending money on films from Maverick, Ground Zero and other small suppliers who in the rental era were lucky to crack Blockbuster.

Most indies with whom I've spoken recently say they're not only shipping more units than ever before, but they're also making more money. And that's a completely different scenario than virtually everyone I know, and respect, predicted.

A funny story: Tony Perez of Ground-Zero had his own doubts that his low-budget urban actioners would prosper in a sellthrough environment. When his sales team told him they were selling, he did a little research.

His discovery: the primary buyers of his films were young bling-blingers with souped up cars who bought these films to play on their car DVD players, generally while the car was parked somewhere so people could walk around and admire it.

Funny story No. 2: I recently took my young sons to a model railroad exhibit. Virtually every cityscape track had a drive-in movie theater, fashioned from a portable DVD player. And most of these makeshift “drive-ins” were showing railroad documentaries.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what's selling on DVD. Everything's selling. Hmm, I wonder if anyone would like to see some of my home movies?

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