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Summer Slate Sizzles

30 May, 2008 By: Billy Gil

The summer DVD release slate is looking stronger than that of the past two years, according to industry insiders.

Sure, there's no 300, no Ghost Rider — in fact, there aren't any titles slated for summer release with a domestic box office that broke $100 million. But the box office for more than 30 titles slated for release on DVD from June 3 through July 29 adds up to nearly $1.2 billion, a 23.5% jump over the same period last summer, when the titles released that had box office pedigrees of more than $1 million added up to about $0.97 billion.

“The last two years, studios have left some gaping holes in the summer,” said Ralph Tribbey, editor of The DVD Release Report, which tracks DVD release trends. “They've had a tendency to even take films and push them to after Labor Day and leave summer bare, and you end up with this self-fulfilling prophecy where the summer's bad because they took all the anchor films out and put them in the fourth quarter where they feel they'll make more money. But then it's disappointing because the fourth quarter is so crowded.”

This summer in June and July, the biggest announced titles (more than $50 million in domestic box office) are The Bucket List (Warner, B.O. $93.3 million, streeting June 10); Jumper (Fox, B.O. $79.8 million, streeting June 10); Fool's Gold (Warner, B.O. $70.2 million, streeting June 17); 10,000 B.C. (Warner, $94.3 million, June 24); The Spiderwick Chronicles (Paramount, $71.2 million, June 24); Vantage Point (Sony Pictures, B.O. $72.3 million, streeting July 1); Step Up 2 the Streets (Disney/Touchstone, B.O. $58 million, streeting July 15); and 21 (Sony Pictures, B.O. $81.2 million, streeting July 22). That's twice as many as last summer, when only four titles broke the $50 million mark in those two months.

“Every week throughout the month there's a nice slate of movies coming that had a theatrical opening at some point,” Tribbey said. “Last year we didn't have the amount of titles that we have this year.”

Ted Engen of the Video Buyers Group, which buys titles for 1,800 independent rentailers and acts as a research and marketing group, agreed the summer slate looks promising.

“It's better than the last two years, for sure,” Engen said. “From our standpoint, if you look at what the summer releases really are, there's almost something for everyone.”

New theatrical releases will largely be supported by Blu-ray Disc releases day-and-date, as well as some accompanying catalog titles. But, according to Tribbey, Blu-ray will continue to account for incremental revenue in the summer.

“Until there is a major commitment in terms of title count, Blu-ray's going to remain something of a niche,” he said. “We'll wait to see what happens when the fourth quarter comes.”

Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey agreed.

“Blu-ray is growing incrementally, but it's still going be a long time before Blu-ray has the adoption of standard-definition DVD,” he said.

For online renter Netflix, Swasey said the summer is less about big theatricals, as roughly only 30% of Netflix's audience seeks primarily new theatrical releases. Swasey said Netflix's bread and butter is catalog releases, and those associated with summer theatricals — as well as pop culture happenings — can expect to see a jump in rentals this summer.

“Any time you have a new movie in a trilogy or a series release, we find an uptick in the previous versions,” Swasey said. “For instance, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is out now, and you'll see Netflix members rent Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels. Anytime someone dies or something significant happens … such as when Frank Sinatra died, we saw increased rentals in films such as From Here to Eternity.

“When someone gets arrested or busted, it reflects in Netflix rentals. Anytime something is popular in pop culture, it's reflected in Netflix.”

TV DVD and new-to-Blu-ray releases also figure strongly this summer, according to Amazon.com representatives. Amazon expects the TV miniseries John Adams (HBO, due June 10) as well as DTV movie Stargate: Continuum (Fox/MGM, due July 29 on DVD and Blu-ray) to do well, while the Blu-ray Discs of Cloverfield (Paramount, due June 3), Persepolis (Sony Pictures, due June 24) and Batman Begins (Warner, due July 8, new theatrical installment The Dark Knight opens July 18) are also expected to be big sellers.

But the biggest driver in home entertainment this summer may very well be the economy, according to Engen.

“You have more people spending time at home because of the fuel cost,” Engen said. “And you have the money that the government is sending to people ($600 economic stimulus checks). … We're actually looking for the summer to be very good.”

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