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Video Overachievers Are A Pleasant Surprise

18 Jan, 2002 By: Jessica Wolf

Rentailers aren't surprised about Memento, but say, ‘Oh Boy' to O BrotherSavvy buyers know what works in their markets, but even the most cunning of retailers can be pleasantly surprised by titles that outperform expectations.

One of this year's biggest video sleepers, Memento, most retailers predicted would find rental success long before the suspense mind-bender hit shelves in September. Memento earned $25.5 million in theaters and by Dec. 30, according to Video Store Magazine market research, had more than doubled that with $59.9 million in combined VHS and DVD rental revenue.

"Memento is one movie that I would definitely classify as a sleeper, although we all knew it was going to do well," said Todd Zaganiacz , president of the New England Buyers Group.

But who knew an offbeat adaptation of Homer's Odyssey set in 1920s America would cause such a video stir? A title many retailers were surprised to find had long, strong rental legs this year was O Brother, Where Art Thou?, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and starring George Clooney.

"It's a six-month-old title and it's still renting stronger than some new hit movies," said Zaganiacz.

Industry analyst Tom Adams of Adams Media research agreed O Brother, Where Art Thou? was a standout sleeper for 2001 and called it "the Fargo of the year."

"It's reassuring proof that quality still matters," Adams said. "O Brother, Where Art Thou? was a great movie that was largely ignored in theaters and has found solid success at rental and sellthrough."

"It's also a good example of the ability of the video market to keep a title alive," he added.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which hit video June 12, earned $45 million in theaters and another $47 million in combined video rental, according to Video Store Magazine research. The O Brother VHS is still ranked No. 12 on VideoScan's top 25 sellers chart and the DVD ran for nearly 30 weeks in the top 25 DVD sellers.

Another title Zaganiacz said performed above expectations wasManhunter, boosted by renewed Hannibal Lecter interest thanks to the blockbuster theatrical release of Hannibal in 2001.

"Snatch has also performed phenomenally by capitalizing on the Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels connection," Zaganiacz said, adding that Snatch star Benecio del Toro's 2000 Oscar win helped create buzz for the title.

Others that did better than he expected at rental, Zaganiacz said, were Save the Last Dance and Legally Blonde, both of which outpaced expectations in theaters as well.

Going strictly by the numbers, One Night at McCool's was a 2001 sleeper, earning only $6.3 million in theaters and more than tripling that on video with $21.8 million in combined revenue, according to Video Store Magazine market research.

George St. Clair, video supervisor at Houston, Texas-based Cactus Music and Video also said O Brother, Where Art Thou? was a standout rental at his store, and still bemoans the fact that flood damage destroyed 70 DVD copies of the title before he could even get them shelved.

"O Brother, Where Art Thou? rented beautifully," St. Clair said. "It still rents pretty well, it still goes out there. So does Amores Perros. Amores Perros was really big for us; we sold a lot of DVDs for it."

Video buyer Rich Swope at the four-store chain Mike's Video Inc in Universal Park, Penn. said O Brother, Where Art Thou?'s popularity was to be expected in the Penn State college community where Coen Brothers and Kevin Smith movies seem to have a strong fan base. "Those never stop renting and selling," he said.

"One thing that did catch me by surprise for sales was The Simpsons Season One DVD boxed set," Swope said. "I've reordered it six times."

Another surprising phenomenon Swope noted last year was the fact that consumers seem more knowledgeable as to exactly when the DVDs they want are streeting.

"It's amazing how many people know what's coming that day," he said. "And boy, you better have it on the shelves when they want it."

Swope said the aggressive first week pricing that large sellthrough retailers like Target and Best Buy use could be part of the heightened awareness of when titles are arriving.

Best Buy's senior v.p. of enterprise entertainment, Joe Pagano, named Memento, Snatch, Swordfish and The Kings of Comedy as sleepers, and said The Fast and the Furious was a lot bigger than he thought it would be.

"I don't think anybody expected the numbers that came out that first week," Pagano says. "From the time it was playing theatrically, there was a buzz, and that continued onto home video."

Pagano says both Best Buy and its mall division, Musicland, had to reorder the Universal Studios Home Video release—even though it was "the biggest preorder Musicland ever had," with an initial buy of 81,000 units.

"Before this movie was released, if you would have looked at the cast and said Fast and Furious was going to do that many thousands of units, the answer would probably have been no," Pagano said.

Pagano said the Godfather Trilogy also sold far better than he had expected, given its size—four discs—and a selling price of $75.

Says Pagano, "You've got to be very pleased with the Godfather number, because that's the equivalent of three-plus single units at retail."

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