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THE MORNING BUZZ: The Envelope -- Please!

3 Jun, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Last week was one of waiting. Not-so-patient waiting.

Here at Video Store Magazine (and, I'm sure, at the other trades), everyone was waiting for Warner Home Video to make some sort of announcement of initial Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone video sales.

There was much speculation that this would be The Big One, the video that would finally unseat The Lion King as home video's all-time bestseller. Out-of-the-gate sales would provide a good indicator of whether or not Harry would be headed for the record books and our editorial staff kept a big slot on the front page open until the very last minute for the expected announcement.

The announcement never came, and on Friday lots of journalists were wondering “How come?”

“Maybe the numbers aren't so great,” mused one. “It had to be a dud,” opined another.

Balderdash (that's about as close to Harry-speak as I will get—promise).

I believe Harry Potter will become the all-time video sales champion. The film made a mint at the box office. The big discount chains are discounting the hell out of it (15 bucks for the double-disc DVD with gobs of extras? That's got to be one of the greatest entertainment bargains of all time). And I've personally spoken to a number of young mothers who had either already bought, or were planning on buying, the video – even though none of them had seen the movie in theaters!

So why the delay? My theory is that Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb is playing this one close to the vest. If he's going to issue a number, it's got to be mind-boggling. And if it's going to be mind-boggling, he'll probably have to factor in international numbers, which will take awhile to tally.

In the fabled fourth quarter of 2001, not a week went by without some sales “record” being set/broken/shattered. Snow White sold a million DVDs in one day. The Mummy Returns set a new first-week DVD sales record. So did The Phantom Menace. So did Shrek (after previously setting a three-day sales record, if my memory is correct). And so on.

In the days leading up to Harry Potter's release, this one-upmanship started all over again. We saw full-page ads in the Hollywood trades touting Pearl Harbor as the top-selling DVD of all time – which surprised the folks at DreamWorks, who believed those honors belong to Shrek (and who then turned around and gave us new, updated numbers on Shrek sales that put the total at 24 million units, within spitting distance of The Lion King's 28.8 million units. Disney, by the way, never did back up its claim with numbers).

Maybe that's why the folks at Warner backed off their previous “hints” that a sales number would be announced last Thursday. I still believe a number is coming, but it's going to come sometime this week – probably Wednesday or Thursday—and it's going to be a global number, with a staggering sales total.

That's one thing the studios didn't do in the fourth quarter – release global numbers. Everything was domestic. And with Harry Potter's worldwide appeal – remember, in Britain, the video blew past Titanic to take the first-day sales crown, with something like 1.25 million units—the international factor could be most significant.

Warren Lieberfarb doesn't just want to win by a mile or two. He wants to be in a whole other league.

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