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The Bigger, the Better

29 Mar, 2003 By: Dan Bennett

When it comes to large-format titles, suppliers in the industry don't need to monkey around anymore. DVD truly has breathed life into IMAX-sized product. Today, competition is a bit of a jungle out there, but suppliers say such competition is a good thing, with heightened consumer interest welcome.

SlingShot Entertainment releases dozens of large-format titles every year, including the recent Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees, featuring the famous animal scientist. Also just out is Straight Up! Helicopters in Action, expected to draw interest because of ongoing military news.

“In the past year, retailers have embraced this product more than ever before,” said Mitch Perliss, VP and general manager of SlingShot Entertainment. “Those who did best were the retailers who created special sections in their stores. The challenge for all of us in this business has been to get retailers to segment our product. The retailers who have created end tabs or IMAX sections or worked with freestanding displays do well. Those who place a title like Hidden Hawaii in the same section as the Hulk Hogan titles aren't capitalizing.”

Perliss mentioned Suncoast Motion Picture Co., Fry's Electronics, Virgin Megastores and Best Buy as retailers that work IMAX titles to advantage.

“Certainly product awareness is as high as it's ever been,” Perliss said. “That's why we're excited about our continued success in large-format 3-D titles.”

SlingShot has four IMAX 3-D titles in distribution, including SOS Planet, narrated by Walter Cronkite. The titles come with a 3-D viewing kit.

“Large-format is the only industry that continues to make successful 3-D product,” said Jennifer Kahn Nelson, director of product development for SlingShot. “We've had successful promotions of this line in Fry's, and we're working on another promotion in Virgin Megastores, where our 3-D titles will be displayed in an in-store kiosk.”

Large-format titles start theatrically, of course, in IMAX-specific theaters and other venues. Educational field trips make up a large part of that audience, and attention from young viewers is passed on to parents. The demographic also includes a wide range of age groups interested in science, nature, technology and family entertainment.

DVD, meanwhile, has allowed not only for better picture and sound than that seen and heard in the VHS and laserdisc days, but also substantial extra features.

“Most of the producers and directors are now thinking of the DVD possibilities from the inception of the idea,” Nelson said. “Where before they thought of DVD as ancillary income, they are now thinking of us as part of their budget.”

Retail, meanwhile, moves beyond traditional outlets into museum and IMAX theater gift shops.

“This is strong impulse purchase product,” Perliss said.

Ryan Mullins, president of Montreal-based Big Picture Productions, licenses large-format product and is the go-between on several titles released by Image Entertainment, including Super Speedway: The Mach II Special Edition, The Living Sea, The Magic of Flight, Dolphins, Beavers and The Discoverers.

“Our first release was in 1998, with Super Speedway, and it was a watershed title,” Mullins said. “Before that, the industry never felt that VHS was a good enough format to make money with these titles. But Speedway sold a ton. It made people realize there was money involved.”

Mullins described Big Picture as a boutique label, signing deals with top-notch large-format producers.

“They want to see their films distributed in a quality format,” he said. “They know it gets attention at retail, especially in stores where family entertainment is showcased. The best way to characterize this product is evergreen. We don't come out with astounding first-quarter sales figures, but the titles are around and selling for years.

The Living Sea, for instance, did about 27 percent of its total sales in the third year of distribution.”

This long-running success mirrors the theatrical releases of most large-format films. IMAX theaters often keep a title in theaters for a year or so, getting them maximum attention.

“Like a good book, they stay relevant,” Mullins said. “We've been trying to put all of our titles on widescreen. We see them that way, and the films look good that way. The technology is important to large-format viewers. These consumers were among the early DVD adopters. Super Speedway, for instance, is among the most popular demo discs ever made. There are other things we're doing, and more on the way -- [for instance,] home science experiments for kids and quizzes.”

Warner Home Video, meanwhile, has released IMAX titles on DVD for some time. A May 13 repromotion will feature three of its sea-based titles in The Best of Oceans Collection. The IMAX Space Collection, also set for May 13, features four titles, including Hail Columbia!

“We're releasing this as a keepsake and working with IMAX on possibly releasing a commemorative edition,” said Douglas Wadleigh, VP of marketing, special interest, for Warner Home Video.

With a large portion of the consumer demographic being school groups and families, Wadleigh said the business will stay strong.

“We definitely have plans for new titles to go along with our portfolio of established IMAX titles,” he said. “People do tend to look at this as edutainment, and they classify the product somewhat in a box, but we've had great success at mass retail accounts, also.

“At the same time, we're always expanding distribution through nontraditional channels. This is great programming. Our biggest challenge is getting it into the hands of consumers, and that's becoming easier because of the popularity of the product.”

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