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Summer Movie Season Starting Early

22 Apr, 2004 By: Jessica Wolf

With the summer movie season beginning earlier than ever and theatrical-to-video windows shorter then ever, industry pundits expect the fourth-quarter flow of video product to get started a little earlier.

But don't look for the real heavy hitters to necessarily come out in August and September. After the success last year of Seabiscuit and Pirates of the Caribbean, both of which streeted in December and far exceeded sales expectations, studios are still likely to horde the biggest releases for the holiday shopping season, insiders said.

This April box office slate looks like a mini-summer. There are comic book actioners like Hellboy and The Punisher, a much-vaunted sequel with Kill Bill Vol. 2, and plenty of stuff for the teen/tween set with Ella Enchanted, The Prince and Me, Mean Girls, 13 Going on 30 and The Girl Next Door. Throw in a few big-budget actioners like Walking Tall and Man on Fire, the thriller Godsend, the epic The Alamo and the starpowered comedy Envy and April is looking about as power-packed as the typical June from a box office standpoint. Certainly, the summer movie season has begun in earnest and will continue next month with the May 7 debut of Van Helsing and May 14 arrival of Troy.

Timing Is Everything
The average theatrical-to-video window is shrinking on certain titles, which could bring many of these hits into the video pipeline in August and September — before the typical holiday season rush.Still, that won't necessarily hold true for big titles.

The president of a major studio home entertainment division said, except for Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, “where everything seems to be coming out in 15 weeks,” it's still a matter of timing.

“We look at the competitive landscape, take into account seasonality and then pick our date,” he said.

He conceded, however, that the “taboo of four months is gone, taboo meaning you upset the theatrical world.”

“Consumers know these things are coming to video quickly, and now if you have a movie that disappoints, or has trouble finding its audience, yes, you might go earlier,” he said. “But I don't see aggressive reductions on big movies. When you talk about a big May title like Troy or Shrek II, I really doubt it. August and September is not a compelling time frame to move things up. It's not Christmas.”

Ron Sanders, EVP and GM of Warner Home Video, agreed. “Windows are starting to shrink a bit, and it's become common now that you see three- and four-month windows,” he said. But the lure of the holiday shopping crowd is still too strong for studios to eye August and September for their big summer season titles, he said.

Still, spring films that didn't exactly set the box office on fire will likely arrive on video in the late summer months, he said.

Sanders wouldn't comment, but sources predict a late-July or early-August release forWarner's Starsky and Hutch and Scooby-Doo 2.

Early summer box office season underperformers are the titles most likely to get a rush to video release, insiders said.

“It's becoming pretty apparent that the sooner you release on DVD the better your sales are going to be,” said Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research. Adams also noted that despite the shrinking window on some titles, the yearly average remains around six months as studios save their most prime releases for prime sales periods.

Summer Still Drives the Holidays
“The betting is that the summer titles have to be strong enough to drive the holiday sales season, “ Adams said.

“But studios have third quarter numbers to hit, too,” he added, which could account for more activity in the late summer months, though August is typically a difficult time to release a title, he noted.

Spacing product out, launching the summer early is definitely a well-used tactic, and one that trickles down to video release schedules.

“The fourth quarter gets so crowded and competitive, I would suspect the studios will hold some of their release windows and have some of their titles come out earlier, in September and October instead of November and December,” said Matt Lasorsa, SVP of marketing for New Line Home Entertainment.

“It's the same as you're seeing on the theatrical side, with some of the big films coming out earlier and earlier, long before the summer gets going,” he said. “There's just so much volume, and it kind of helps neutralize some of the competition.”

Additional reporting by Thomas K. Arnold.

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