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Oscar Fever Hits Video

25 Mar, 2002 By: Jessica Wolf

As Tinseltown geared up for its biggest night of the year and stars scrambled to put together that perfect Academy Awards outfit, video sellers and renters also grabbed some award-season glamour, promoting Oscar-nominated titles both new and old and even getting into the ceremonial act themselves.

Merchandising Mania
Wherehouse Music outlets set up separate sections using DVD editions of current nominees such as Memento, Pearl Harbor, Shrek and Bridget Jones's Diary, said Paul Ramaker, VP of movies for the 407-store chain.

In addition, DVDs of prior years' winners were stickered throughout the stores, he said, and a newspaper insert slated to run the weekend of March 22 was to spotlight this year's nominees.

"All the attention that these movies are getting, and the overall attention of the Academy Awards, are getting additional customers to our stores looking for these titles," Ramaker said. "We're happy to be there helping them with that."

Shortly after this year's nominees were announced, Best Buy used its tongue-in-cheek "Secret Dictionary of Technology Terms" to highlight endcaps of Academy-lauded video product from years past. An endcap stocked with Oscar-winning titles like Titanic, Braveheart, Platoon, Patton, Forrest Gump and Gladiator were labeled "I-wanna-thank-DVDs."

Tower Records and Video got into the Academy act in a big way using shelftalkers featuring images from Bridget Jones's Diary, Shrek and Citizen Kane throughout the video section and themed merchandisers to promote Tower's Academy Awards sale that runs through April 1.

Throughout March, Tower offered price reductions in the $4 to $6 range on selected Academy-nominated titles. VHS sale titles priced at $9.99 included Ghost, Chocolat, Ordinary People and Apocalypse Now. DVD titles marked down to $9.99 for Oscar season included The Crying Game and A Town Without Pity. Sale-priced Academy-nominated DVDs dropped from around $20 to $14.99 were Dead Man Walking, Driving Miss Daisy, The Graduate and Rocky. Tower also offered a slew of newer DVD releases at $19.99 including Memento, Almost Famous and Saving Private Ryan. The Godfather Collection on DVD, and its films' multiple Academy nominations, got a nod from Tower, too, priced at $84.99 discounted from $99.99.

A Southern California Tower location had two special Academy Awards displays: a large DVD bin in the middle of the section and a store merchandiser set up next to a new releases display. With a depth of product from recent and older Oscar nominees, one side was devoted to VHS titles and the other side to DVD.

Rent an Oscar
Blockbuster Video is promoting the Academy Awards, along with three other contests -- the Golden Globes, the NAACP Image Awards and the Alma Awards -- with an "Award-Winner Sweepstakes." The grand prize is a 2002 Jaguar X-Type and a trip for two to Los Angeles to an E! Red Carpet Premiere. The winner will get to stand next to the entertainment channel's host during celebrity interviews and will receive tickets to the premiere and party along with free round-trip airfare and a hotel stay. A Phillips DVD player and Blockbuster 10-movie rental card will go to 250 first-prize winners, while another 1,000 entrants will each receive second prizes of a four-video library containing various award-winning titles.

Customers who rent one of 150 current and past winners are automatically entered twice for the sweepstakes, but every Blockbuster rental from Feb. 26 to April 15 also gets one entry.

A number of Los Angeles-area Hollywood Video outlets featured separate sections for older Oscar winners. Executives from Hollywood Entertainment Corp. did not return telephone calls.

Movie Gallery highlighted Oscar with a special "Academy nominee" page on its Web site, allowing customers to purchase new and used versions of Oscar-nominated movies and to "bookmark" the page to find out when nominated titles are announced on video. Best Picture-nominated Moulin Rouge's used DVD, available for $16.99 or 43 percent off the retail price, sold out by mid-March. Other new DVDs, such as Memento, Bridget Jones's Diary, Sexy Beast and Mulholland Drive, were marked down 20 percent, while the newly released Training Day was featured for 30 percent off suggested list, or $18.89, for the DVD.

Oscar Is Hit and Miss With Indies
A sampling of smaller independent retailers around the country didn't reveal many store owners who were taking advantage of the Academy Awards to heighten awareness of their store or drive business. Many agreed they should "do something" -- even as simple as a wall of past winners -- but simply hadn't.

Lucy Herrera, owner of two-store chain Curley's Video in Lakeway, Texas, a suburb of Austin, created her traditional wall display of about 100 titles of the past best picture and other category winners from as far back as the '40s and '50s, and offered those rentals at a discount. She featured posters of Oscar-winning movies throughout the store and other memorabilia, but the big deal was the Oscar voting promotion. Using the VSDA's Oscar Night Comes Home ballot, Curley's Video customers were to vote for their Oscar choices and place them in a ballot box in the store. The customers who correctly guessed the most winners would win 50 free rentals; there are usually multiple winners who tie, Herrera said.

"It's very popular and people start asking about it even before the nominations are announced," said Herrera, who has been doing the promotion for the past three years. Besides in-store promotion for the balloting, Herrera also typically e-mails customers to notify them when ballots are available. Voting ended the day before the awards ceremony, and that night, after the awards were handed out, Herrera and some of his staff sat down with a pot of coffee and reviewed the 200 to 400 ballots to find the winners and notify them the next day.

Pic-a-Flick in Spartanburg, S.C., also took advantage of the VSDA Oscar Night Comes Home program by offering ballots at the store for customers to complete and turn in to win one of several free rentals awards for getting the most winners right. There was also a surprise award planned for the person that got the most wrong.

First Run Video in Brattleboro, Vt., has become well-known in its community for its Academy Awards party, thrown each awards night for the past seven years and hosted by owner Alan B. Goldstein.

"The Oscars are Hollywood's holiday, a gift to itself, and we use the party as a way to give something back to our customers and to our employees for their support during the year," Goldstein said.

Each year about 150 partygoers attend the swanky soiree -- typically held at the local Quality Inn -- dressed to the nines ("Some people dress pretty outlandishly," Goldstein said) and ready to cheer for their favorite actor and film. There's no admission price to attend the party (one ticket per customer), but the only way to get a ticket is to come into the video store. A local radio station co-sponsors the event and drives a lot of traffic to the store via on-air promotions.

The party is appropriately decorated with posters of past Academy Award-winning films and current nominees if they're on shelves already. The store also takes full advantage of the VSDA's Oscar Night Comes Home promotional materials. There's plenty to drink along with finger food and a big-screen TV to watch all the glamorous action. There are ballots at the tables so everyone can track their own picks throughout the night. The store also has a ballot box where people can cast their votes for the winners, and those with the most right choices win free rentals.

At the party, during commercial breaks (if a Blockbuster commercial comes on there are boos from the crowd), Goldstein, resplendent in his usual purple tuxedo ensemble (purple is the store color and that of the local high school's) is master of ceremonies for the evening's drawings and other contests including an award for best-dressed male and female. Along with a variety of studio premiums he gives away, Goldstein uses studio co-op money or other such funds to acquire three big prizes: a big-screen TV, a DVD player and a VCR.

"It's a fun time, a good excuse for a party, a great way for us just to say thank you to customers and staff," Goldstein said.

Click on Oscar
Amazon.com has run Academy Award sections on the site for the last few years, said senior video editor Mark Englehart, but this was the first year the site sponsored a competition.

In partnership with 20th Century Fox, Amazon offered its site's visitors the opportunity to win different paraphernalia from best-picture nominee Moulin Rouge, a title that has been doing extremely well on Amazon since it streeted in December, Englehart said.

The grand prize winner will get a genuine can-can costume designed for star Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. Three runner-up prizes of different props from the period musical will also be given away after the sweepstakes ends April 2.

Amazon's "Oscar Central" offered links to VHS and DVD buying pages for Academy Award-winning titles as far back as 1929 and this year for the first time also provided links to movie times for nominated titles still in theaters.

"There's a tremendous surge in video traffic when it comes around to Oscar time," Englehart said. "With the advent of DVD there are so many more nominees available during the awards season."

Previous to the awards ceremony, he said, some hot titles were nominees from last year, such as Gladiator and Traffic.

Englehart said the most activity on Academy-nominated titles comes after the awards are actually announced. In the past, Amazon.com staff noted surges in buying activity on titles featuring honorary Oscar winners. This year's honorees are Sidney Poitier and Robert Redford.

"Usually after the show airs we see a huge surge for those kinds of titles, especially if they show clips of them at the show," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if some Redford-directed movies and Poitier movies like Raisin in the Sun and Lilies of the Field did some interesting activity [after the show]."

Executives at online DVD rentailer Netflix could not comment on rental activity driven by the site's extensive Academy Awards promotions, saying the company is still in its IPO-related quiet period.

Netflix.com included a section spotlighting past Academy Award winners such as Gladiator, The Cider House Rules and The Matrix.

The site also allowed customers to find Oscar-winning and -nominated titles by category. Netflix also groups relevant titles into broader categories, such as winning and nominated comedies and fact-based films.E-tailer buy.com offered an "Oscar extravaganza" page that deeply discounted DVDs for current nominees and past winners. Moulin Rouge was featured at $18.99, $11 off the retail price, while Training Day sold for $17.99 and Monsters, Inc. was priced at $17.99, a $12 discount. Past winners Gladiator ($21.99), On Golden Pond ($10.49) and The Godfather Collection ($73.99 DVD) were also promoted. Buy.com's Oscar Extravaganza also offered information on and links to related product like books and soundtracks for the nominated films. The site also featured a link to the film repertoire of this year's Honorary Oscar recipient Sidney Poitier.

Electronics retailer Circuit City plugged this year's nominees on its Web site, www.circuitcity.com, which included a page that listed current and upcoming DVD releases such as Training Day, Moulin Rouge, Mulholland Drive, Ghost World and Pearl Harbor.

Joan Villa, Enrique Rivero and Kurt Indvik contributed to this story.

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