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Straight From the North Pole

16 Aug, 2005 By: Dan Bennett

Every year, holiday-themed, direct-to-video releases attempt to be the little titles that could.

In a marketplace dominated by the big-name studio titles — often Hollywood blockbusters with millions of dollars in marketing behind them —DTV titles rely on crafty marketing, word-of-mouth and the hope that the often feel-good holiday themes they showcase will touch the hearts of consumers.

One such title is Noel, streeting Oct. 25 from Screen Media Films. Starring Penelope Cruz and Susan Sarandon, the film is directed by Chazz Palminteri and is about five people whose lives are changed one Christmas Eve. The title had a limited theatrical run and played on TNT. It also was released on Flexplay expiring discs, and now is a DTV release competing against some big players.

“A movie with these names, that was in theaters only a week — that's something people want to see,” said Robert Baruc, president of Screen Media.

Selling it, though, is the tricky part.

“Marketing at this time of year is a challenge,” Baruc said. “In fact, we had mostly stayed away from holiday titles, because the competition was so great at the end of the year. But Noel has its advantages. There were a couple of million dollars in advertising behind its one-time television airing and also some advertising for its one-week theatrical run.”

Screen Media will support the title with advertising and various store-counter configurations, and expects strong placement with major retailers.

The company enjoys a deal with Universal Studios Home Entertainment, releasing two dozen DTV titles a year. Screen Media also is releasing the children's Christmas tale The 12 Dogs of Christmas Nov. 1.

“Kids love movies with dogs,” Baruc said. “And there aren't that many ‘G'-rated movies made for ages 2 to 14, so that's a selling point.”

Often, a familiar brand also will help a DTV title. Paramount Home Entertainment Oct. 25 releases My Little Pony: A Very Minty Christmas, the DVD premiere of a popular brand loved by young girls for more than 20 years. The VHS collectible edition is spruced up by a 20-minute music video and special foil-enhanced packaging. The DVD edition features two original holiday sing-a-longs.

First Look Media offers The 12 Days of Christmas, streeting Nov. 15, a feel-good story of family with a Scrooge-like theme, starring Steven Weber and Molly Shannon.

Another familiar face arrives this fall in The Legend of Frosty the Snowman, a feature-length animated comedy based on the original 1969 television-special classic, with Burt Reynolds as narrator.

“With wonderful animation and an outstanding voice cast, we believe that Frosty will be embraced as a contemporary family classic,” said Doug Schwalbe, head of worldwide distribution for Classic Media.

The children's market also is represented by the direct-to-DVD title Brainy Baby — Jingle Bells, from the Brainy Baby Company. The title streets Sept. 13.

Brainy Baby — Jingle Bells will be promoted through the usual magazine and newspaper venues, POP displays and radio talk shows,” said Dennis Fedoruk, president and CEO of Brainy Baby. “In addition, we will be promoting it through various consumer baby shows to drive retail sales.”

The title has long legs as entertainment.

“Children watch it throughout the year, not just during the holiday season,” Fedoruk said. “We don't find it a challenge to sell holiday titles in a crowded market if your title is unique.”

Brainy Baby — Jingle Bells will be available at both specialty and mass market retailers. In 2006, the entire Brainy Baby line will be available in Spanish.

“There is a lack of quality children's products for the Latino market, and Brainy Baby will meet this growing demand,” Fedoruk said.

A particular challenge meets distributors of DTV titles without big names or cash-heavy marketing. Robert Battaile is a producer and director, and president of the production company Calexas Inc. He used a small inheritance to produce Santa and Sons & Daughter.

“We've received three offers from home video distributors with very big organizations,” Battaile said, “[also], a couple of record offers, IPTV and satellite. A recent simple press release was picked up by a dozen-plus Web sites. This is positive programming aimed at an evergreen children's market. We're also entered into five festivals in September and October, so the momentum builds.”

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