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Studios Get Into the Holiday Spirit

12 Dec, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Sandra Slankard is thrilled with all the new Christmas titles hitting DVD this holiday season. On her frequent trips to Wal-Mart and Target to buy diapers for her new baby, she's seen, and picked up, Warner Home Video's new double-disc special edition of A Christmas Story and, for her 7-year-old son Alex, Paramount Home Entertainment's Spongebob SquarePants Christmas.

“When I saw a commercial for A Christmas Story, I was too thrilled, because that's my sister's favorite movie and that's going to be a Christmas gift for her,” said Slankard, a 42-year-old preschool teacher from Oceanside, Calif. “We have some Christmas videos that we've collected over the years, but they're all VHS—and we don't watch VHS any more.”

Home video suppliers apparently believe a lot of consumers share Slankard's sentiments. With DVD household penetration passing the 50 percent mark and players on sale for as little as $19.99, DVD is firmly entrenched in the mainstream. And that means family entertainment—and holiday-themed titles couldn't fit that description any better—is fast making its way to DVD.

“Christmas is a family phenomenon, and DVD is now a family phenomenon as well,” said analyst Tom Adams of Adams Media Research. “There's no reason to hold off releasing stuff at this point; this is the year when everything that's out on VHS needs to be out on DVD, as well.”

Indeed, according to The DVD Release Report, 74 new holiday DVDs are slated to come to market this year, the vast majority of them already in stores. That's an increase of nearly 40 percent from 2002.

Among the major studios, Paramount this holiday season released five Christmas DVDs, up from just two last year. Among them: Spongebob SquarePants Christmas, a collection of nine holiday-themed episodes from the popular Nickelodeon kids series, and The Homecoming, a made-for-TV movie that doubled as the pilot for “The Waltons.”

MGM released four new Christmas DVDs, including A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Special Edition; last year, the studio didn't release any.

And 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, too, is releasing three Christmas DVDs this holiday season, after not issuing any in 2002. Among them: Olive, the Other Reindeer, from “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, about a pooch (voiced by Drew Barrymore) who misinterprets Santa's quote about “all of the other reindeer” as “Olive, the other reindeer” and is convinced she's needed at the North Pole.

Some of these releases are getting at least a taste of the star treatment generally reserved for high-profile theatrical releases.

Earlier this month, the cast and crew of A Christmas Story got together at the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film—and Warner Home Video's release of a feature-packed 20th anniversary edition DVD.

The double-disc set ($27) includes a documentary on the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun, the gift for which young Ralphie so desperately yearns, as well as original radio readings from humorist Jean Shepherd, whose childhood memories inspired the sweet tale of Christmas in smalltown 1940s America.

“It's become an American classic,” said George Feltenstein, SVP of classic catalog for Warner Home Video. “I get quite a kick out of it—I was at MGM in 1985 the first time it came out on video, so I go back to the very beginning.

“It was a sleeper that had only cost $4 million to make, but ended up grossing more than $20 million at the box office—which was very good at the time.

“Now, with 24-hour marathons on TNT and steady video sales each holiday season, it's become part of our culture.”

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