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DVD Feast in Q4 Could Lead to Famine in 2004

8 Aug, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Rick Timmermans looks at the increasingly crowded schedule of fourth-quarter video releases and wonders if there will be anything left from the summer movie season to spill over into next year.

“I think pretty much everything that's out [theatrically] is ready to roll,” said Timmermans, director of video purchasing for Tower Records and Video of West Sacramento, Calif.

Virtually every one of the big-budget summer movies already has at least a tentative fourth-quarter video release date, Timmermans said. The Matrix Reloaded is due Oct. 14, and The Hulk has been moved up into October as well, he said. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle comes out Oct. 21.

November dates await X2: X-Men United, Finding Nemo (Nov. 4), Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (Nov. 11) and Bruce Almighty (Nov. 25),while Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl are expected to roll into stores in early December. Also expected to hit video just before Christmas is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Most of the summer crop ripened pretty fast in theaters, observers note, with dramatic dropoffs in ticket sales after a mere week on the big screen. The Hulk, for example, opened with an impressive $62.1 million in box office proceeds, only to suffer a 70 percent slide its second weekend out. Terminator 3 had a 55 percent slide its second weekend in theaters, while Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle fell 62 percent.

Timmermans believes the fast theatrical death of these and other films prompted studios to speed up their video release dates.

“I think there was a glut of movies this summer that may have cannibalized each other,” he said. “And the studios know there's a huge DVD market and want to get them out while they are fresh.”

DVD Sellthrough Era
The DVD era has made every movie a sellthrough product right out of the gate, and that has put pressure on the studios to become more aggressive in marketing their video releases.

Riding on the theatrical campaign, while awareness is still high, is something most video marketers strive for, and this desire to capture the moment has certainly contributed to the shortening of theatrical-to-video windows from six months -- the longtime standard -- to as little as four months.

Universal's The Hulk, for example, was originally slotted for November, but is now pegged for video release right before Halloween Oct. 28, sources say -- a mere 16 weeks after its theatrical debut.

“Windows have gotten shorter,” said veteran industry analyst Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research. “The DVD upside is so huge at this point, and they're paying interest on production money. It's sort of incumbent on them to get money in the door as quickly as possible, and theaters are less adamant than they used to be about the six-month rule because they're blowing through movies faster than they were five, six years ago.”

In 2001 and 2002, Adams said, there were huge upticks in the number of DVD households right after Christmas, giving studios an incentive to wait until after the holidays to release at DVD heavyweights.

No Need to Wait
“DVD was growing from 12 million to 24 million to 36 million households in the last two years, and the biggest growth came during the holidays,” Adams said.

“But now that we're approaching 50 million homes and the best film fans are already glued onto DVD, there's no longer that reason to wait until after the holidays. Now, at the beginning of the holidays there are easily 45 million DVD homes, so waiting for that incremental 5 million isn't that important.”

But not everyone feels that way. Craig Kornblau of Universal Studios Home Video just smiles and shakes his head when he hears talk of no “fifth quarter.” That's a term coined by industry observers earlier this year, when several top films of 2002 didn't debut on video until the following January, February and March, including the Universal films 8 Mile and Bourne Identity.

“Wait until you see what we have in store for this year,” he said.

Kornblau wouldn't provide any more details, but sources say American Wedding, the third “American Pie” movie, has been slotted for a Dec. 30 release date to capitalize on the expected post-holiday DVD buying frenzy among new player owners. The Rowan Atkinson comedy Johnny English has been pegged for video release Jan. 6, 2004. Also due in first-quarter 2004 from Universal, sources predict, are The Rundown, starring The Rock; the Coen Brothers' Intolerable Cruelty, with George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones; and The Cat in the Hat.

“It's easy to put things out in the fourth quarter, when there's traffic,” said one insider. “You do that if you don't know how to market. But that's the easy way out.”

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, too, is expected to save some of its bigger titles for January, including the September films Underworld, starring Kate Beckinsale, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, starring Antonio Banderas and Johnny Depp. While she admits the holiday shopping season is a “sweet spot” for summer movies, Tracey Garvin, Columbia TriStar's VP of marketing said, “we will be there in January as well.”

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