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Black Friday a Sweet Season for Video Retailers

8 Dec, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Black Friday was solid gold for video retailers as the holiday selling season swung into high gear over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We saw double-digit sales gains,” said John Hastings, president of Hastings Entertainment, a chain of nearly 150 multimedia stores based in Amarillo, Texas. “Our heavy hitters were the hot new releases, the same as everybody else. And boxed sets, especially of TV episodes, did very well. But what was surprising was the amount of catalog DVDs we sold.”

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's X2: X-Men United and Universal Studios Home Video's Bruce Almighty, the highest-profile titles new in stores that week, generated combined consumer spending of nearly $200 million, according to studio estimates.

X2, according to Fox, brought in $107 million as of Sunday night, from the sale of about 6 million units. “Event marketing for this title really paid off,” said Steve Feldstein, SVP of marketing communications for Fox Home Entertainment. On the Monday before X2's release, Fox held a “silver carpet” launch party in New York City attended by every cast member except Halle Berry.

Bruce Almighty, according to Universal, made $80 million from the sale of about 5 million units. Observers said that's a strong performance, given the fact that the film is a comedy and didn't make it to home video until six months after its theatrical bow, at a time when four months is becoming more common.

A Universal release trumpeted Bruce Almighty as the “bestselling comedy DVD ever released over the Thanksgiving holidays.”

“We are blessed to serve up a comedy feast that audiences were thankful for,” said Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Video.

Steve Scavelli, president of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based distributor Flash Distributors said he kept his warehouse open Friday and Saturday. His retail clients, mostly video specialists, “were telling us they were packed, and even picking up extra merchandise.”

Overall, the National Retail Federation reported “traffic seems to be strong,” although final figures weren't yet in at press time. Wal-Mart posted a record $1.52 billion in total sales on Black Friday — so known because it used to mark the day when retailers turned a profit. But analysts weren't impressed, noting that the 6.3 percent single-day sales gain, compared with Black Friday 2002, was a lot lower than the previous year's 14.4 percent jump.

The price wars between the major chains resulted in virtually every major new DVD release being on sale for less than $15 at Wal-Mart, Target Stores and other discounters. New lows also were reported for recent DVD releases, from a low of $11 at Wal-Mart to early-bird sales of $11.99 at Best Buy to $12.99 at Circuit City.

It wasn't just the big chains that played the price-lowballing game. Marc Oringer, owner of the four-store Champagne Video in New York City, said he took out a full-page ad in the New York Daily News Black Friday advertising X2, Bruce Almighty, The Matrix Reloaded and The Lion King at $14.99 with the purchase of any other DVD.

DVD players are again hot gift items. A Consumer Electronics Association study found that 71 percent of U.S. consumers plan on buying at least one consumer electronics product this year, with DVD players at No. 1. Helping spur DVD sales is the widespread appearance of players selling for as little as $19.99.

Tom Warren, chairman of the Video Software Dealers Association and owner of 10-store Video Hut in Fayetteville, N.C., offered 100 DVD players for $29.95 each with four new-release DVD rentals.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart's Black Friday sale of $29.95 DVD players made headlines. According to reports, a woman at an Orange, Fla., Wal-Mart got trampled by a mob of shoppers rushing for a sale on DVD players. Paramedics called to the store found her “unconscious on top of a DVD player,” an Associated Press story said. Wal-Mart executives reportedly offered to put a player on hold for her.

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