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Marketing in DVD's Golden Years

17 Dec, 2007 By: Billy Gil

In a DVD market that appears to be entering maturity, studio publicity executives have had to become savvier to reach an increasingly sophisticated consumer with DVD events that are more targeted and bigger than ever.

“What makes an event? To us, it's adding excitement and anticipation for the DVD release and helping pull it through retail,” said Steve Feldstein, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's SVP of corporate and marketing communications.

Fox's latest stunt involves creating a “Simpsons on Ice” in New York City's Bryant Park, located in the middle of Manhattan. According to Feldstein, the event, taking place this week, will feature Homer dancing with Spider-Pig from The Simpsons Movie, which streets on DVD and Blu-ray Disc Dec. 18.

Feldstein said the Empire State Building will partner with a film for the first time when the entire building is lit with yellow lights — the same color as the popular cartoon characters' skin tone.

Generating press

It's not just about going big — the press has to pick up on an event for its message to be effective, Feldstein said. Fox notably dragged around the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex last spring for a 10-city tour to promote the DVD release of Night at the Museum. The DVD ended up generating more than $100 in consumer spending its first week in stores, according to studio estimates.

“Anyone can spend a lot of money, but this is about being strategic, about generating news and another layer of activity and messaging for the release,” Feldstein said. “In the scheme of things, it's actually quite economical, especially given the return in free and earned media.”

Jennifer Anderson, VP of marketing for Sony Pictures, agrees.

“When you look at what your costs or budget would be, it's really what you're getting out of it [that counts],” Anderson said. “I don't know that events have gotten more expensive.”

Among Sony Pictures' more attention-grabbing events have been those surrounding Spider-Man 3, released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc Oct. 30. On Oct. 29, a costumed Spider-Man dropped in on the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York City's Times Square to deliver a pizza. The event was to kick off not only the DVD release, but also a joint initiative with Papa John's Pizza to donate more than $1 million to police, rescue and fire workers. Director Sam Raimi and Papa John's Founder John Schnatter also were on hand for the event.

Getting talent

Sony Pictures' Spider-Man 3 events point to another important DVD event element: the availability of talent.

“What's going to get it cutting through the clutter and picked up through the newswire is the talent,” Anderson said. “It's not just the actors and actresses, but also the filmmakers. Judd Apatow, Sam Raimi, Seth Rogen — it makes an immense difference when you can put together publicity campaigns that include the talent.”

For the Dec. 4 DVD and Blu-ray Disc release of Superbad, Apatow, Rogen and the rest of the Superbad clan have made themselves available for a number of events. Rogen was on hand to sign copies of the film on its release date at a Borders in West Hollywood, Calif., while Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who played fan favorite “McLovin” in the film, was given Hollywood Life magazine's Breakthrough Performance of the Year Award Dec. 9 at the Music Box at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood, Calif. The award, presented by Paul Rudd, fortuitously came around the same time as the DVD release.

“The Superbad people really understand how important it is to be there for the DVD release events,” Anderson said.

Caught in the Web

Talent often isn't available once actors move on from a project after its theatrical release, according to studio representatives, so other options must then be considered. One such option to make a lengthier splash is through online events.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment went online to promote the Dec. 11 DVD and HD DVD release of The Bourne Ultimatum. Rather than hosting a press-baiting party, Universal helped craft a 21-day virtual event on the Internet, in partnership with AOL.

AOL created a custom Bourne Ultimatum DVD page with a map, streaming video and trivia. Visitors were asked to perform seven missions across the AOL network for a chance to win a trip to New York City, a location central to the film's plot, with clues provided at such AOL locations as Auto, Moviefone, TV, Music and Travel.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig Kornblau said the decision to hold a Web event rather than a physical one came as a result of research that shows DVD buyers have become increasingly tech savvy. Studio research showed between 2006 and 2007, DVD buyers who purchased at least 11 DVDs a year increased their trips to the Internet to seek out DVD information by 53%.

“As consumers become progressively more discerning about their DVD purchases, we are constantly looking for the next convention-shattering approach to effectively capture their attention,” Kornblau said.

The move marks a change for a studio that has been known to pull such stunts as parading camels down Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard for The Scorpion King and closing down a portion of Hollywood Boulevard to stage an event featuring a food fight and a live elephant for the 25th anniversary edition of Animal House.

Kornblau said live events have a shelf life of one or two days in the news media, while online event coverage can extend to weeks. Moreover, online events can immerse the visitor in the film much more than a live event.

“Through watching clips or answering trivia, the experience becomes interactive, not passive,” he says.

Universal also held an online interview with Children of Men director Alfonso Cuaron on Amazon.com the same day of that film's release on DVD and HD DVD. The partnership with Amazon was the first of its kind, according to Universal.

“There will always be a place for theatrical-style DVD premieres and major live publicity stunts,” Kornblau said. “However, the Internet's pervasive influence on heavy DVD buyers made our partnership with AOL on The Bourne Ultimatum equally valuable.”

Going big

Still, theatrical-style DVD premieres are still part of the marketing game. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has continued to produce extravagant events, such as inviting guest chef Michael Richard to cook up real ratatouille for the Ratatouille/Cars Blu-ray release event, held at Social Hollywood Oct. 30, or holding a tea party for the release of Cinderella III: A Twist in Time to benefit St. Jude's Children's Hospital, or adding Country Club-style decorations to a High School Musical 2 party at the Hollywood and Highland night club.

Warner Home Video also has gone all out to promote DVDs with grand events — renting out Petco Park July 27 to screen 300 on the jumbotron to Comic-Con show fans. And the studio is willing to go the extra mile for catalog releases as well, heavily promoting its 25th anniversary release of Blade Runner on DVD and both high-definition formats. Warner held a screening of Blade Runner with talent Dec. 9 and an afterparty at the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, a location famously used in the film.

Events in High-Def

Though studio representatives largely say high-definition discs haven't greatly affected DVD release events, many studios incorporate the high-definition releases into the events. A high-definition version of a film may play during its release party. Sony Pictures played scenes from the Blu-ray version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind at its recent release party for that title, while Fox plans to have its interactive Blu-ray release of The Simpsons Movie up and running at Bryant Park. And Disney's Magical Blu-ray Tour, aimed specifically at educating consumers at shopping malls about Blu-ray Disc, moves through Dec. 23.

“It does give you an extra component to talk about, but our messaging is dual,” Sony's Anderson said.

What that message ultimately is, according to Fox's Feldstein, is “awareness of the DVD and the call to action to buy.” But Feldstein, for one, also sees DVD events as an extension of the product itself: film.

“This is entertainment, and you have to bring that element of showmanship to it,” he said. “We're lucky. We get to sell, whether it's a new release or catalog, an emotional experience. Any chance we get to remind people of that, we should.”

Additional reporting by Thomas K. Arnold.

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