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DVD Expected to Be Big Kidvid Player in Q4

29 Nov, 2002 By: Jessica Wolf

Children's programming, especially on the direct-to-video front, has long been considered one of the final bastions against the digital format.

Last year, the genre made some major inroads into DVD territory, and nontheatrical kidvid DVD is poised to be a big player in the fourth quarter this year.

At the end of 2002's third quarter, the nontheatrical DVD kidvid market already showed tremendous growth from 2001. DVD sales in the category increased by 77 percent in the first three quarters of this year compared to the same period last year, according to Nielsen VideoScan data.

That increase could become more pronounced, as 62 percent of all children's nontheatrical DVDs for 2001 were sold in the fourth quarter.

This year, as DVD hardware penetration heads toward 35 percent, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, kidvid suppliers have anticipated the growing number of families plugged into DVD and are pumping more and more titles into the marketplace. They've discovered what consumers want when it comes added-value programming and have created price points that keep DVD competitive with VHS and keep shoppers in impulse-buying mode.

“This was a pivotal year,” said Martin Blythe, VP of publicity for Paramount Home Entertainment. “I think the conventional wisdom last year was parents are still reluctant to buy DVDs for the kids. And they were right. This year all the studios have recognized the explosive growth in sales of children's properties on DVD.”

And it doesn't hurt that some of the year's biggest DVD hits of the recent past have been in the animated and/or family genre: Monsters, Inc; Shrek; Harry Potter.

“Absolutely more and more families are getting DVD players and some of the biggest record-breakers on DVD have been family titles,” said Suzanne White, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment VP of marketing. “It definitely starts getting families into DVD and reaching out toward other family or children's releases.”

Old acquaintances are rarely forgotten in kidvid
One fourth-quarter release strategy for this line of product -- one that nearly all suppliers employ -- is to get fresh or holiday-themed releases of their most recognizable properties out there in time for shoppers.

Long-time genre leader Buena Vista Home Entertainment released its timely direct-to-video Beauty and the Beast: An Enchanted Christmas Nov. 12, taking advantage of both its holiday theme and the fact that the original film had a short theatrical re-release this year and is available in a special edition DVD. Buena Vista also rolled out a familiar face Nov. 12 with a new holiday Winnie the Pooh title -- A Very Merry Pooh Year.

Warner Home Video focused on the evergreen popularity of Dr. Seuss with an animated DVD two-pack featuring How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Horton Hears a Who that hit shelves early in October. Grinch piggybacks on Universal's special edition version of the Jim Carrey film.

Other familiar faces with a holiday twist this year include Lions Gate Home Entertainment's Madeline at the North Pole, streeting Dec. 3, and Hit Entertainment's Barney's Christmas Star, which streeted Oct. 22.

Other suppliers made sure their kidvid franchises have new offerings, even if they aren't holiday-themed. Pioneer unveiled three new Pokemon titles in November and December. Universal Studios Home Video's annual “The Land Before Time” installment that kidvid shoppers have come to expect, Volume VIII Journey to Big Water, arrives just in time to achieve stocking-stuffer status Dec. 10. And Buena Vista plugged itself into the arachnid superhero frenzy early when its animated Spider-Man: Return of the Green Goblin hit shelves Oct. 29.

Paramount, which enjoyed great success this year with its newest Nickelodeon line, “SpongeBob Squarepants,” released the yellow guy's newest, Sea Stories, Nov. 5.

“SpongeBob appeals to all different age groups, and sales have been extraordinary,” Blythe said. “We have been able to ride on the explosion of press coverage the TV broadcast and the licensing. It may have started as a children's franchise, but now it's appealing to all demos.”

Keeping visibility
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, which arguably has the longest list of hit theatrical titles coming out this fourth quarter, got its line of children's product onto shelves early, White said.

“We tended to release them in August and September this year so they could be set in stores and be part of retailer plan-o-grams and holiday promotions,” White said. “It's hard to get shelf space when all the big summer movies start to hit.”

The studio also positioned itself in the family DVD market with a high-profile marketing campaign with General Mills that offered free Columbia TriStar animated and family DVD releases like “Jackie Chan Adventures,” “Bear in the Big Blue House” and “The Muppets” titles inside popular cereal boxes in September.

For smaller suppliers, the increase in DVD titles they've pumped into the pipeline has driven rising sales figures so far this year.

“Our sales for the fourth quarter so far this year in the children's category are more than 40 percent higher than in fourth quarter last year,” said Kristin Sands, senior brand manager for Anchor Bay Entertainment. “Last year we had one DVD in the fourth, and this year we have nine DVDs available.”

Sands also said Anchor Bay makes it a point to offer consumers the choice between VHS and DVD, so parents can decide which format is good for their children.

“I think there's definitely still a wider skew toward VHS, but our DVD sales are up 23 percent over last year,” she said. “Part of that is because we have nine DVDs available this year, but parents are definitely testing DVDs with their kids. They see the value that DVD bonus features, games and educational content can offer.”

With its major fourth-quarter release, Anchor Bay stepped up the added value even more by packaging its Thomas the Tank Engine: Thomas' Christmas Wonderland DVD with a free music CD.

Make new friends but keep the old tie-ins
“I would say that parents and children are very loyal to particular characters,” Blythe said. “And while they may be long-lived or short-lived, its important to have new product out there to satisfy that.”

Paramount is using children's film festivals during the holidays to get the demographic primed for its February release of Charlotte's Web 2, debuting it at the San Jose Children's Film Festival in December and moving on to other kidvid fests across the country. Paramount's original Charlotte's Web, re-released earlier this year, is No. 14 on VideoScan's top-selling kids' direct-to-video list for 2002.

“These are much-loved characters,” Blythe said. “The original book is taught in third grade, and the video and DVD are pitched at the age group immediately preceding that -- the preschool and early elementary years. Some titles -- like the original Charlotte's Web and, we hope, Charlotte's Web 2 -- are evergreen titles. They will be on shelves for the long haul. They have a different profile from short-form fare, but DVD is beginning to change that.”

Consumers are starting to get hip to the idea that DVD has more to offer just by the mere fact that a disc will hold more episodic programming than VHS, Blythe said. This is especially important considering how much kids' TV content is making its way to DVD these days, he added.

“Bells and whistles are fun,” Blythe said. “But at the end of the day it's the programming itself that matters the most.”

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