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Warner Hoarding Pays Off

10 Jun, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

As most studios wind down their catalog DVD releases simply because they've already put most everything out, Warner Home Video only now is beginning to seriously mine its rich library of more than 6,600 feature films.

The studio this year will release more than 100 classic movies on DVD, about twice as many as last year, according to SVP of classic catalog marketing George Feltenstein.

That's in sharp contrast to the overall trend in Hollywood. So far this year, the number of catalog theatricals making their way to video is down nearly 30 percent from the same time last year, according to The DVD Release Report.

“We're way up,” Feltenstein said. “While we were waiting for player penetration to increase, everybody else was shoving out what they had. Now, they have nothing left, and we're just getting started.”

Indeed, Warner has a bumper crop of catalog (pre-1997) titles in the pipeline, many of them in stylish boxed sets grouped around a particular theme or actor. Among the collections that soon will arrive in stores: “Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 2” (July 5, $49.92), with Born to Kill, Clash by Night, Crossfire, Dillinger and The Narrow Margin; “The Complete Thin Man Collection” (Aug. 2, $59.92), with the original Thin Man and its five sequels, plus a bonus disc of documentaries and other extras; “The Astaire and Rogers Collection” (Aug. 16, $59.92), with Top Hat, Swing Time, Follow the Fleet, Shall We Dance and The Barkleys of Broadway; and “Garbo: The Signature Collection” (Sept. 6, $99.92), containing 10 Garbo films and timed to coincide with what would have been the star's 100th birthday (Sept. 18).

Feltenstein said Warner favors boxed sets because they make appealing gifts and are popular with the big “club” discount retailers.

“They're very collectable, and we try to price them so that consumers get five films for what they would ordinarily pay for three,” he said. “We want to increase the fan base for classic films, and making them affordable helps us accomplish this goal. A lot of the people who saw these films originally are passing away. So we need to introduce them to a new generation of consumers.”

While DVD's household penetration rate is the main reason Warner has held off releasing many of these classic films, it's not the only reason.

“There's also the restoration period,” Feltenstein said. “We originally planned to release our collection of gangster movies in 2002, but it took us until this January to have everything in place.”

In the first five months of this year, Warner has released 76 classic films on DVD, up 13.4 percent from the first five months of 2004, according to The DVD Release Report.

The only other studio with an increase is Paramount Home Entertainment, with 24, up 14.3 percent from the comparable period last year.

The other studios are all down (see chart), led by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, which has released just 10 classics so far this year, down 78.7 percent from the 47 it issued in the first five months of 2004.

All told, 270 catalog theatricals have been brought to market by the studios in the first five months of this year, 26.4 percent fewer than the 367 titles they issued in the first five months of 2004.

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