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Nature's Way

1 Jun, 2003 By: Dan Bennett

OK, it's time to get natural. But wait, don't take off your clothes, unless that was on your agenda anyway.

We're talking about nature video titles, a continentwide category covering everything from winged migrations to the eating habits of the fairy shrimp, from the atmosphere high above to the molten lava far below the earth's surface.

The nature-titles category is a small but perennial genre, a special-interest favorite during the VHS heyday that like so many niche genres is making a successful transition to DVD.

Nature titles cover much retail ground, appearing on the well-stocked shelves of mass merchants, online cyberstores and in specialty shops such as museum gift shops and bookstores.

National Geographic Home Video has long been a category leader, bringing its recognizable brand to the marketplace. Along with hundreds of catalog titles, the supplier is releasing the Restless Earth DVD Collection in July, featuring the titles Nature's Fury, Asteroids: Deadly Impact and Volcano: Nature's Inferno.

“The collection combines three of our top sellers together in one set,” said Patricia Najda, director of marketing for National Geographic Television & Film.

“For Volcano and Asteroids, it will mark the first time these titles have been released on DVD. People love these extreme nature films because of the inherent drama and suspense that exists in potentially devastating natural events. People also seem to respond to the emotional stories of the survivors and their remarkable displays of incredible human courage.”

Nature has long been a National Geographic staple.

“Over the years, National Geographic has made a name for itself by producing award-winning films in a wide variety of genres, from adventure and exploration and science and technology to peoples and culture, but consumers perhaps best identify the National Geographic brand name with nature and wildlife,” Najda said. “As such, the nature and wildlife genre has become the foundation of our home video library and will remain so as we pursue a variety of genres.”

National Geographic has been converting its strongest catalog sellers to DVD for the past year, including Dinosaur Hunters, Tigers of the Snow, The Noble Horse and Wolves: A Legend Returns to Yellowstone. The conversion allows National Geographic to earn better shelf space.

“Getting strong retail placement has proven to be challenging for our nature titles,” Najda said. “Recently, we have had better success getting placement for DVD sets than for our single nature-themed titles. Partnering with retailers for exclusive in-store promotions is becoming more commonplace and something we are pursuing along with our distributor, Warner Home Video.”

Chicago-based Questar Video distributes many National Geographic titles, Reader's Digest titles and its own line, comprising a catalog of some 3,000 titles, many of which loosely fall in the nature category.

“We've estimated that special-interest consumers run between 30 million and 40 million buyers,” said Albert J. Nader, chairman of Questar Video, “And that doesn't include the viewers in libraries and schools, which is another large number. That indicates a big thirst for consumers interested in nature titles. They are collectable, they are playable and they are timeless.”

Questar is preparing for the fall release of one of the biggest and most recognizable series in the genre, the WNET-PBS ongoing series “Nature.” The series pairs well-known celebrities with nature subjects. The first wave will include Julia Roberts -- Wild Horses of Mongolia, Jane Goodall's Chimpanzees, A Conversation With Koko, The Joy of Pigs and American Buffalo: Spirit of a Nation, among many others.

“Then there will be a whole new series of titles airing on PBS in 2004,” Nader said. “What has made this collection really interesting for the DVD consumer is that all of the titles have been authored into new DVD programming that give us 120-minutes-plus footage. We're going to be providing top DVD production and content for the mainstream consumer and a considerable educational resource for K-12, libraries and museums.”

The British Broadcasting Corp. is producing some of the most modern, innovative nature programming in the world, and BBC Video takes advantage of word-of-mouth marketing. The supplier recently released Sir David Attenborough's The Life of Mammals, one of the most ambitious wildlife series ever. Arriving June 17 is Walking With Cavemen, a follow-up to the popular Walking With Dinosaurs and Walking With Prehistoric Beasts, where trained actors and special effects place the viewer in natural environments dating thousands of years.

“It's one of the clearest programs I've ever seen on the meaning of evolution,” said Burton Cromer, director of marketing for BBC Video. “By telling the viewer where we are in time, you get a much better handle on the science.”

Packaging plays a big role in nature titles, Cromer said.

The Life of Mammals packaging is gorgeous,” Cromer said. “This is the most successful brand, from the same team that won five Emmys for ‘The Blue Planet' and other programming.”

The July 15 BBC release Prehistoric America, meanwhile, demonstrates how North America appeared when people first arrived 14,000 years ago.

“It looks at six different environments, from the Ice Age that started 20,000 years ago to today,” Cromer said. “It has two good bonus programs in Grand Canyon and Everglades.”

Then there is that forever-unpredictable natural element -- the weather -- with the July 29 release of The Weather, featuring British investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre placing himself in ultra-extreme weather conditions.

Retail is increasingly receptive to nature titles, Cromer said.

“We're in mass merchants, a selected amount of our product is online, we're in specialty shops, electronic chains,” he said. “It's a fairly definitive market that satisfies a lot of need for retailers.”

SlingShot Entertainment takes nature titles to new dimensions with its comprehensive catalog of large-format and 3-D releases. Available now are Seasons, Ocean Oasis and SOS Planet, and available June 17 is Sedona: The Spirit of Wonder, followed July 15 by Texas: The Big Picture.

“In the past year, retailers have embraced this product more than ever before,” said Mitch Perliss, VP and general manager of SlingShot Entertainment. “Those who did best were the retailers who created special sections in their stores. The challenge for all of us in this business has been to get retailers to segment our product. The retailers who have created end tabs or IMAX sections or worked with freestanding displays do well.”

And if your idea of nature viewing is relaxation, as in relaxing to nature sounds in the comfort of your home, Delta Music offers musical soundtracks with soothing images, including The Beautiful Aquarium, Dream Islands of the Ocean, Rainforest Impressions and Wilderness Journey/Canyon Suites.

“All the DVDs have over an hour of beautiful scenes and relaxing worlds, ranging from oceans, lagoons, undersea and rainforests to mountains, canyons, monastaries and fireplaces,” said Stephanie Pool, sales and promotions manager for Delta Music. “This Tranquil World Collection takes the best of our top-selling nature and music meditation and classical CDs, and incorporates them into 12 DVDs, with beautiful, scenic nature and wildlife that both relaxes and soothes.”

Three-packs appeal to retailers, Pool said.

“We sell to mass merchants, clubs, online stores, specialty stores, major retailers and distributors,” she said. “We participate with retailers for special promotions and have some grocery promotions going right now with our nature DVD titles.”

Sometimes, at the end of a long day, it's time to relax and get natural.

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