Log in

DVD Market Has 20/20 Hindsight

14 Oct, 2005 By: Thomas A., Jessica W.

A scene from The Island.

The box office slump has been one of the biggest stories of the year. The media piled on summer titles that boasted huge stars, even bigger budgets and plenty of buzz, but failed to sizzle on the big screen.

Now that many of these “theatrical underperformers” — as the industry likes to call them — are coming to DVD, home entertainment marketers are scrambling to turn things around.

They're repositioning and sometimes even re-editing notorious theatrical duds in an attempt not only to recoup their losses, but maybe even turn a tidy profit.

“Hollywood's video marketers excel at making lemonade out of lemons,” said industry analyst Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research. “They have one thing theatrical marketers don't have: the benefit of hindsight.”

As a result, Adams said, video marketers “get the opportunity to capitalize on everything that's been learned from the theatrical run of the movie — the reviews, the exit polling, the blogging.”

DreamWorks is hoping the second time around will be the charm for The Island. With a budget estimated at $122 million and a domestic gross of less than $36 million, Michael Bay's over-hyped sci-fi actioner was one of the summer's biggest losers.

For the film's Dec. 13 DVD release, DreamWorks is taking a whole new marketing approach. Instead of focusing on the story and the characters, as the theatrical campaign did, DVD marketers will play up the film's explosive action sequences and special effects.

“We want to really make sure this reads loud and clear as a big action movie that plays to the core DVD audience,” said Kelly Sooter, domestic head of DreamWorks Home Entertainment. “Theatrical always is challenged with trying to establish the story. For the DVD release, that's already been established, so we can really focus on what we believe will help the movie find its audience.”

Sooter cites research that shows 60 percent of a film's DVD sales are to people who didn't see the movie in the theater.

DreamWorks also has created a savings card, good for $3 off The Island DVD, that will be inserted into People magazine's “Sexiest Man Alive” issue as well as more than 7 million copies of the War of the Worlds DVD, due Nov. 22.

“This gives [holiday shoppers] a real incentive to pick this one up,” she said.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment also is offering consumers an incentive to buy the DVD of Kingdom of Heaven, released last week. The film is one of director Ridley Scott's first misses, earning just $47.4 million against a budget of $130 million despite an all-star cast that includes Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons.

For the DVD release, Fox worked with Scott's production company to create a revolutionary new feature that lets viewers create their own documentary on the making of the film. Using an interactive production grid, viewers can assemble their choice of 16 custom documentaries, ranging in length from eight minutes to 90 minutes.

These are hardly isolated cases.

The sci-fi actioner Stealth also had a budget of $130 million, but made just $31.7 million in U.S. theaters. For the DVD release, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment changed the box art to play up stars Jamie Foxx and Jessica Biel.

Another Sony title, Bewitched, fared little better, costing $85 million to make but earning just $62.2 million in theaters. Sony's home entertainment division timed the DVD release (Oct. 25) to Halloween to play up Nicole Kidman as the witch Samantha.

Despite generally good reviews, Cinderella Man failed to catch on with moviegoers, earning just $61.6 million against a budget of $88 million. Hoping to capitalize on Oscar buzz, Universal Studios Home Entertainment is releasing the DVD of the film, about a heroic Depression Era boxer (played by Russell Crowe), Dec. 6. That's two months later than expected — DVDs typically come out four months after a film's theatrical opening — but just as members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences begin determining Oscar nominees.

In some cases, the actual movie is tinkered with. Oliver Stone's Alexander was panned by critics for being dull and plodding and, at 175 minutes, way too long. The film cost an estimated $160 million to make but only returned $34.3 million during its end-of-2004 theatrical run. When it came time to release the epic on DVD, marketers at Warner Home Video had an easy answer: They released a shorter version of the film as a two-disc “director's cut,” personally engineered by Stone, taking into account criticism of the film, in addition to the critically panned theatrical cut.

According to Nielsen VideoScan data, consumers bought twice as many copies of the director's cut than they did of the theatrical version.

One of the most drastic retoolings in the pipeline is The Honeymooners, an urban-comedy remake of the classic TV sitcom. The film garnered a ‘PG-13' rating from the Motion Picture Association of America for “some innuendo and rude humor” and was marketed primarily at teens.

But teens did not take to The Honeymooners. In theaters, the film died a quick — and, according to some critics, merciful — death, grossing less than $13 million, less than half of what it cost to make.

For the film's Nov. 22 DVD release, Paramount is preparing a tamer, ‘PG'-rated version that will be marketed to families and young kids.

Meagan Burrows, domestic president of home entertainment for Paramount Pictures, said internal research showed the film had more appeal to families than to teens, and that young kids who might enjoy the film had been shut out of theaters by the more restrictive ‘PG-13' rating.

Her team “saw an opportunity to build on this family-friendly perception by editing the film to garner a ‘PG' rating,” Burrow said. Commercials were recut to more prominently feature the dog than stars Cedric the Entertainer (Ralph Kramden) and Mike Epps (Ed Norton), and will run during family TV shows.

That doesn't surprise analyst Adams. “Video,” he said, “gives every movie a second chance.”

Add Comment