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Studios Lay Out Holiday Sets

26 Nov, 2008 By: Billy Gil

Despite the flagging economy, studios are still prepping big things for the fourth quarter. Extravagant, head-turning DVD and Blu-ray Disc packaging holds sway, even as studios employ cost-cutting and green measures.

“We are continually looking for cost-effective solutions without sacrificing the consumer experience,” said Julie Markell, SVP of creative development for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Cult product gets big sets

An example of such a strategy is Fox’s recent Planet of the Apes: 40-Year Evolution Blu-ray boxed set. The five-disc set has all five “Apes” movies and includes a coffee-table book, never-before-released   footage and extended theatrical versions of some of the films, and is housed in a horizontal box the length of two DVD packages, with the same height as other DVDs. However, the set also eschews plastic DVD trays, cutting out costs and environmentally unfriendly packaging.

“When we know we have a core consumer fan base and can speak directly to them, we want to give that consumer a higher perceived value,” Markell said. “Shelf space is always something we keep in mind when designing any package, especially gift sets. We need to continue to break through the clutter and present the consumer with something unique; something they must own; something they feel good about purchasing.”

Many bigger releases this holiday season carry that added value — even if it’s one of the biggest movies of all time. The Dark Knight is coming to Blu-ray Disc from Warner Home Video in a two-disc collector’s edition boxed set, with a replica batpod ($64.99, due Dec. 9, along with standard DVD and Blu-ray versions).

“Retailers have not pushed back [on extravagant boxed sets]; they’re very supportive of it,” said Jeff Baker, EVP and GM of theatrical catalog for Warner, which continues to release premium Ultimate Collector’s Editions, such as the Nov. 11 three-DVD JFK: Ultimate Collector’s Edition. “They see a high margin in them, and there is a big consumer demand as well.”

For fan favorites and cult titles, consumers will shell out extra money for a set that presents the material in the best possible light, according to studio executives. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Series, for example, comes in a cleverly designed bottle shape to hold its 10 discs, which is in turn stored in a clear box that sits comfortably on a store shelf. Anchor Bay Entertainment’s Heathers Limited Edition Box Set (Nov. 18, $89.97) comes in a locker made of metal, with a T-shirt, yearbook, a replica of an algebra book from the movie (which houses the T-shirt) and a magnet, in addition to both the Blu-ray Disc and 20th anniversary DVD of the teen black comedy; the studio’s Masters of Horror: Season Two set comes in a skull. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s recent ultimate collector’s edition of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas came in a bust of the film’s Jack Skellington, which plays sound bites from the film — and carries a price tag of $179.99.

“Our goal would always be to size it so it fits in existing shelving,” said Gordon Prend, SVP of worldwide marketing for Anchor Bay Entertainment. “In general, retailers love it because it’s a higher margin for them, and it allows us to repromote catalog in a special new way. And it makes hardcore fans happy because they are collectors. …. These guys want this stuff.”

For Anchor Bay’s six-disc Halloween: 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set, the studio included 1978’s Halloween on DVD and Blu-ray, an extended cut on DVD, a documentary disc, and Halloween 4 and 5, with a scary Michael Myers mask staring through the front of the box. The mask fits inside the proportions of a regular DVD boxed set, and the entire box takes up the size of about five regular DVD Amarays stacked together.

“Retailers like it to fit normal sizing, but a premium piece needs to be compelling and unique,” Prend said. “Having this Halloween mask stare at you will catch your attention.”

The 11 Academy Award winners in Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s Columbia Best Pictures Collection ($135.95) come in a classy set that looks like an encyclopedia, albeit one that only is as wide as about three DVD Amarays.

Cutting costs and size

Elsewhere studios are judicious with their packaging. Recently released complete-series sets of “NewsRadio,” “Good Times” and “Sanford & Son,” all from Sony Pictures, have been released in smaller boxed sets with all discs stacked in a spindle. Still, some have complained of such measures. TVShowsOnDVD.com’s Gord Lacey wrote an editorial complaining about the cost-cutting packaging. And Michael Burroughs, a consumer reviewer from Lincoln, Neb., on Amazon.com said he was overjoyed to see a complete set of “NewsRadio” being produced but was disappointed with the result. 

“I wish I had collected ‘NewsRadio’ season by season as I did with ‘M*A*S*H’ and other great shows,” Burroughs said. “The all-in-one package basically took all the discs from the five season packages and put them in a stack, one on top of the other, without so much as a piece of film between.”

Some say there is pressure from retailers to go thinner.

“We’re hearing that most retailers now want thin packs when it comes to boxed sets,” said Steven DeMille, SVP of marketing at Image Entertainment.

Still, thin doesn’t have to mean boring. Even for some smaller titles, flashy packaging enhances sales appeal, executives said. DeMille said encasing a lesser-known title in an O-card makes it stand out. Image released The Legend of Sasquatch, a direct-to-video family title, with furry outer packaging, for example, while other children’s titles carry toys, such as Lionsgate’s Little Tikes Land, with a toy car, and Paramount Home Entertainment and Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer: Singing Sensation, which comes with an inflatable microphone. Anchor Bay uses O-cards on several of its titles, such as Dead Space: Downfall and Flashbacks of a Fool, while First Look Studios’ rerelease of Paris Je T’Aime comes in an Amaray-sized steel book.

Green vs. cost

When it comes to the question of environmentally friendly packing, is greener more expensive, or less? According to studio representatives, that depends on what you mean by green, and even then, it can go either way.

“If you’re doing a very specialized green packaging, it absolutely can cost more,” De-Mille said. “But we’ve been taking steps toward that by using recycled board and things like that where it can fit in a traditional manufacturing process.”

Indeed, the trend toward green seems inexorably tied to the desire of retailers to have smaller sets to fit on store shelves.

“I think the costs are about the same by the time you add it all up,” DeMille said in regards to thinner and greener packaging. “But it’s definitely greener to have thinner sets because you’re able to ship more in a box, so you’re shipping fewer cartons in order to get product on the shelves. It’s especially important with radical fuel prices.

“The smaller the sets, the better off we all are. That seems to be a trend across the board I think. All of the retailers are asking for that.” 

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