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Oscar Played Differently In Video Realm This Year

5 Mar, 2004 By: Stephanie Prange

While The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King received a whopping 11 Academy Awards and a May 25 release date, some in the video industry may note this Oscar season as the year Lost in Translation, which picked up an Oscar for best original screenplay (Sofia Coppola), brought DVD into the awards spotlight.

In what industry insiders are calling a first, the title came out on DVD Feb. 3 — hailed by a star-studded gala in Hollywood — a mere week after the nominations were announced and while the film was still in theaters. While industry observers question the effect on the theatrical take, Universal Studios Home Video president Craig Kornblau said the strategy didn't hurt either distribution avenue.

“After the Golden Globes, Universal made a conscious decision to go ahead [with the video release], opting for the road less traveled,” Kornblau said. “We did more than $10 million more at the box office from the day the Golden Globes were announced to the day the Oscar nominations came out, and we also sold 1.5 million discs, which is incredible for what is basically an art-house film.”

Kornblau said Universal research shows 56 percent of DVD buyers never see the movie in theaters.

“It's a different market,” he said.

Not only did Universal time the DVD release of Lost in Translation to garner added Oscar buzz, the studio released its other best-picture Oscar nominee, Seabiscuit, on DVD Dec. 16 — again with an enormous Hollywood party, this time at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills hotel.

“They were advertising ‘for your consideration' at the same time they are advertising the DVD,” noted Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment VP of marketing Tracey Garvin.

“Next year, a lot of studios will follow our example,” Kornblau said.

Many Oscar hopefuls have debuted before the nominations in the past, not after. In fact this year, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment's Whale Rider, which picked up a nod for best actress, came out in November.

“We were fully into solicitation as the Oscar buzz started and decided to go ahead,” Garvin said. The studio stickered the title with its nomination. Another strategy employed in the past was to pull a video release when it garnered Oscar praise, as Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) did this year with Miramax's City of God, which earned four nominations. The video debut was originally slated for Feb. 17, but was postponed until June in deference to an expanded theatrical run.

“It created an opportunity to re-release it in theaters,” said Eric Maehara, executive director of public relations for BVHE.

Theatrical industry observers said the DVD release is all about windows.

“The distributors may want to time their DVD releases to capitalize on the [Oscar] fervor over a particular movie. Of course, it depends upon when the film was theatrically released,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of movie-tracker Exhibitor Relations Co. “No one will want to shorten the video window to the point where a November or December theatrical release will be on DVD in January. That would encroach on the theatrical revenue stream too early. Lost in Translation was a September release, therefore the February DVD release was timed perfectly. Not all films would have this luxury.”

Dergarabedian noted that with the Oscars moved up this year, there was really no precedent for the new schedule. “Perhaps next year we will see more release-pattern strategy now that the industry has experienced this new Oscar schedule and has something to base future decisions on,” he said.

Meanwhile, theater exhibitors are expressing some concern about windows getting shorter, according to Milt Moritz, president of the National Association of Theater Owners of California and Nevada, who said Translation's five-month window was short. “Some pictures are only out three months before they go to DVD,” he said. “DVD is probably even bigger competition than VHS ever was.”

While exhibitors do renegotiate the theatrical revenue split for a re-release, studios typically garner a smaller cut of a film's grosses as the film stays in theaters, he noted. DVD, in contrast, offers “faster” income, he said.

In other Oscar-winner video release news, Columbia TriStar's winning documentary The Fog of War will get special packaging noting the win. Also, in an interesting first for the video business, Charlize Theron's best-actress Oscar win for Monster marks the first Academy Award for a DEJ production. DEJ is Blockbuster Inc.'s acquisition and distribution subsidiary. No video release date has been set.

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