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Post-Theatrical DVD Marketers Get to Monday Morning Quarterback

5 Oct, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

As DVD matures and the sellthrough market increases, studios are changing their marketing strategies to build on or make up for theatrical performance.

The move to sellthrough has led studios to spend less on advertising to dealers near prebook date and more on TV advertising to consumers just before street date, George Feltenstein, SVP of classic catalog at Warner Home Video, told an audience at the Digital Hollywood conference in Hollywood, Calif., last week.

“There is a mirroring of theatrical marketing activity that's now going on in new-release DVD marketing, and that is the huge percentage of the money spent on these titles is happening before these titles are released into the marketplace,” Alex Carloss, SVP of domestic marketing at MGM Home Entertainment Group, said. “That really feels like a sea change from the VHS days.”

In addition, studios are timing DVD releases not only to compete with other studios' products, but to piggyback on each other's marketing budgets.

“We planned the release of ‘The Simpsons' season three across from Lord of the Rings because we knew it was the same audience,” said Peter Staddon, SVP of marketing at Fox Home Entertainment. “If New Line is gracious enough to put Lord of the Rings out on the same street date, I can take advantage of that to drive the same consumer into the stores.”

On the other side of the equation, some films that bomb at the box office are better left alone for a while.

“We have the benefit of being the Monday morning quarterback. In theatrical, you could be surprised by something. With home entertainment, the cards are all out there,” Staddon said. “If something stiffs theatrically … you might want to take some time to let the stink blow off that movie” before the DVD release.

Fight Club, which did just $37 million at the box office, was misunderstood in its theatrical life, but the DVD treatment “changed the perception of the movie,” Staddon said.

“Home entertainment is no longer about shrinking the theatrical experience, it's about expanding the theatrical experience,” he said. “A lot of DVDs are about selling the context of the movie.”

“It's not just about the box office any more,” Carloss agreed. “Bulletproof Monk completely overindexed on DVD compared to its box office. It was completely remarketed as ‘wire fu' and [advertised during] NFL games.”

Executives don't see the window between theatrical and DVD release compressing much more because of the DVD authoring timeline, although reality programs are an exception “where you are dealing with real melting ice cubes like From Justin to Kelly,” Staddon said. Initially planned for release six weeks after the theatrical opening, the studio extended the window to 10 weeks to appease theater operators even though “theatrical business on From Justin to Kelly was done in three days,” he said.

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