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'Speed Racer' Has Slow Rollout, But Flies Off Shelves Fast

31 Jan, 2006 By: Chris Tribbey

When Lionsgate released the first of five “Speed Racer” DVDs in April 2003, executives weren't sure how fast it would sell.

Lionsgate didn't do anime, and, although executives knew they had a unique and well-known show, “initially, we weren't sure how well it would perform,” said Michael Rathauser, VP of marketing.

More than 500,000 units of the first three volumes have sold, with two more on the way.

“Obviously, our expectations have been revised,” Rathauser said.

He credits the success first and foremost to the show itself. The 52-episode, 1967 show follows teenage Speed, who goes on adventures with his girlfriend, a candy-crazed monkey and Speed's mysterious brother, Racer X. Speed's car, the Mach 5, is the fastest thing around, and Speed often risks life and limb in it to perform rescues and race other drivers.

“Speed Racer” was the only show directed by Tatsuo Yoshido, even though he created it and more than two dozen other anime shows. The show has inspired songs, is used in commercials, and appears on everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs.

“It's a combination of the way we've released this and the value of the ‘Speed Racer' brand [that propelled sales],” Rathauser said. “It's also because we've made sure each volume's packaging had value and stands out on the shelf.”

Knowing it had a popular product, Lionsgate added value to the DVDs. Instead of simple extras, Lionsgate took a cue from anime companies, and added toys and specialty items to each DVD release. Volume One featured real wheel-rubber packaging. The DVD box for Volume Two featured blinking headlights and sound, which played the show's recognizable theme song. And Volume Three featured limited-edition packaging with a collectible embossed tin in the shape of a steering wheel. Volume Four (prebook Feb. 14, street March 14) will include a limited-edition die-cast Mach 5 miniature car.

“The inspiration for [the extras] came from the success of the first DVD launch. It made us want to keep it up,” Rathauser said.

Two other things have made the DVDs successful: price and the release schedule.

Anime DVDs rank among the most expensive. However, while the average single-volume anime series DVD has a $29.98 SRP and usually only features four episodes, the “Speed Racer” DVDs have had $22.98 SRPs, with a dozen episodes each.

“That's the right price for this product,” Rathauser said. “It's not just anime product. It has broad appeal.”

While traditionally anime suppliers release an entire series on DVD in the span of a year, Lionsgate has spaced out the release of the five volumes, with one each year. Volume Five is due sometime in 2007.

“We have given each volume time in the marketplace,” Rathauser said. “It's worked.”

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