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Big Screen Boost

19 Jan, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf


Universal used a special screening to promote its 25th anniversary edition of The Blues Brothers.


DVD marketers increasingly are using the big screen to support releases for the small screen.

Jan. 2 New Line Home Entertainment's hot summer hit Wedding Crashers returned to theaters for one night only at 100 locations across the country, bringing along with it a sneak peek at a few minutes of DVD extras. The disc streeted the next day.

Matt Lasorsa, EVP of marketing for New Line, said the studio went for the one-night theatrical event knowing it would get plenty of build-up in the selected theaters.

“What was attractive to us was the media exposure it was going to get the whole month of December, one of the highest traffic months of theaters,” Lasorsa said.

Sure, there wasn't much doubt the title would do well on DVD, he admitted. The comedy was a smash hit over the summer, earning more than $209 million in theaters and grabbing surprisingly good reviews. But the goal was to bring the movie back to “top-of-mind awareness” in advance of the DVD, Lasorsa said.

Wedding Crashers debuted at No. 1 on Nielsen VideoScan's DVD sales chart.

On Aug. 29 of last year, Universal Studios Home Entertainment gathered director John Landis and stars from The Blues Brothers in Hollywood for a lively gab session prior to a theatrical screening of the film. The studio re-broadcast the event later that same day to 83 theaters around the nation the day before Universal's The Blues Brothers: 25th Anniversary DVD streeted Aug. 30.

Indies Use Theatrical Marketing

But the big-screen kickoff isn't only a major studio technique. It's a good marketing ploy for smaller films as well, suppliers say.

Wellspring Entertainment last week hosted a premiere party in Los Angeles for its irreverent punk-rock animated movie Live Freaky! Die Freaky, featuring voice talent and songs from Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong.

The weekend of Jan. 28, Live Freaky! Die Freaky! appears at midnight screenings in about 20 theaters in major markets and college towns across the country. The title streets Jan. 31 on DVD and UMD.

The “intentionally tasteless” film benefits from having an audience that's excited and engaged, like midnight moviegoers often are, said Marie-Therese Guirgis, VP of acquisitions for Wellspring.

“In many ways, it really is the classic midnight film,” she said. “We thought it was the perfect way to generate a lot more publicity than a traditional marketing campaign would.”

The plan is already giving a boost to the DVD with retailers, Guirgis said. “It creates visibility.”

Suppliers of independent film also are finding that little tweaks in theatrical strategies can yield bigger and better mass merchant placement.

Randy Kret, VP of Indican Pictures, said the established method of releasing an indie film to artsy theaters in New York and Los Angeles to grab high-profile reviews and word of mouth isn't as effective as it once was. An increasingly effective technique is opening the film in theaters in places such as Bentonville, Ark. (headquarters of Wal-Mart), Dallas (Blockbuster's home base) and Minneapolis (home of Best Buy's corporate office).

“I can have a title with a glowing review from The New York Times and struggle to get it into Wal-Mart or Blockbuster,” Kret said. “But for ones that played in a theater near the buyer, I have a much better chance.”

Kidvids Go Theatrical

Theatrical openings don't just work for big-budget or arthouse fare. The technique works for kidvids, too, suppliers have found.

In November, Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment released the direct-to-video My Little Pony: A Very Minty Christmas. Weekend matinee screenings across the country preceded the DVD release in October via the Screenvision digital network. By the end of November, the title hit No. 1 on Billboard's Top Kid Video charts.

Paramount teamed with Kidtoon Films for the theatrical promo. Kidtoon Films each month offers a new ‘G'-rated feature to the 50 or so theaters in its Screenvision network for Saturday and Sunday matinees, all tied to a DVD that streets shortly after. In November, it was Scooby-Doo: Where's My Mummy, leading up to Warner Home Video's Dec. 13 DVD.

The screenings give a DVD more visibility as it hits retail, “eventizing” a direct-to-video title, said Michele Martell, COO of Kidtoon Films.

Theaters turned into a “My Little Pony” party zone for kids in October, she said, with promotional hats, stickers and goodie bags.

It also serves a need in the theatrical market, giving kids ages 3-9 and their families a regular ‘G'-rated theatergoing option, she said.

Digital Networks

Studios broadcast the Blues Brothers and Wedding Crashers events through another digital theatrical distribution network, National CineMedia. The Blues Brothers event was held in partnership with the Hollywood Master Storytellers event series, and CineMedia plans to team up again with that group, said Dan Diamond, VP of digital programming.

“The reaction from consumers has been extremely strong,” he said.

CineMedia viewer exit and entrance interviews show audiences respond to the format, he said.

“About 85 percent come out saying they want to buy the product they just got a glimpse of,” he said. “It really generates a lot of excitement for downstream retail sales.”

CineMedia has broadened its footprint in the two years since the company started its “one-night premiere” programming, Diamond said. Once a wholly owned subsidiary of Regal Entertainment, CineMedia is now a private LLC owned by Regal, AMC Theaters and Cinemark. More theaters from these chains are being retrofitted to become part of the digital network, he said. Once build-outs are complete, CineMedia's network will include nearly 11,000 digital theaters in 150 markets in North America.

CineMedia started by working with music suppliers for one-night premieres the day before DVDs streeted. November 2005 events included a premiere for the DVD Green Day: Bullet in a Bible from Warner Music.

“On the music side, a lot of markets may not get the big tours, but we have the opportunity to bring that community an event,” Cine-Media's Diamond said.


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