Insights from home entertainment industry experts. Home Media blogs give you the inside scoop on entertainment news, DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, and the happenings at key studios and entertainment retailers. “TK's Take” analyzes and comments on home entertainment news and trends, “Agent DVD Insider” talks fanboy entertainment, “IndieFile” delivers independent film news, “Steph Sums It Up” offers pithy opinions on the state of the industry, and “Mike’s Picks” offers bite-sized recommendations of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Over the last few weeks I've been reading along as my colleague, Thomas K. Arnold, sings the praises of his bright, clean Wal-Mart and cries crocodile tears about Kmart's misfortune.
For a long time I wasn't really qualified to compare Kmart to Wal-Mart. Until a month ago, there wasn't a Wal-Mart within three Kmarts of my house, so I never went.
Then our brand spanking new, hotly contested Wal-Mart finally opened. The chain fought for years to get a foothold in my community, where hundreds of protesters fought the land lease that let the chain build on a former elementary school site (the store opening was even delayed over a weekend until the chain made some improvements to a nearby city park that were a condition of opening a store in our town). At last, the store opened.
What an anticlimax. So okay, Thomas, I will grant you the store is clean (though I did not visit the bathrooms) -- but you expect that with a store less than a month old. And clean is supposed to mean free of debris, not free of sales associates on the floor. You could walk around that cavern for hours without ever seeing a salesperson except at a cash register.
I've been to that Wal-Mart three times now and have yet to find the items I went in for. Typically I am looking for items I used to get at Kmart, before its cupboard was bare, before the bankruptcy filing. I can easily see Wal-Mart fielding an ad campaign around having the best prices on national brands, but what if you don't want a national brand?
On my last visit I might have impulse purchased a bag of chips, but they didn't have the kind I like. They had 48 flavors and sizes of Doritos and other Frito-Lay products, but not a Wahoo in sight., which illustrates the chain's merchandising strategy.
Wal-Mart is the revenge of the rack jobbers.
Along with becoming the nation's leading discounter, Wal-Mart has made strides in efficiency and reduced its on-the-job injury rate phenomenally using that strategy.
Wal-Mart contracts as much as possible with companies that will deliver goods and stock the shelves themselves, which works for the chain in at least three ways. Most of its suppliers are national brands with the capacity to monitor stock through Wal-Mart's point-of-sale system, which saves Wal-Mart a lot of inventory tracking; that lets the chain run a leaner operation with little need for its own warehouses; and Wal-Mart employees do a very small percentage of stocking, so the chain has very few lifting and back injury claims for a large retailer.
That's great for the chain, but not always so hot for consumers.
After three disappointing visits to our much-heralded Wal-Mart, I can honestly say I'll only go back as a last resort. Even their garden center doesn't hold a candle to the local Target's.
So as much as supplies allow, I am loyal to my little Kmart, where the aisles are getting roomier and the supplies are dwindling. I want Kmart to pull through.
If Kmart goes under it will not only disappoint me, but an entire city's worth of protesters will be hopping mad that our local officials let Wal-Mart plow down a vacant school to build a superstore when the Kmart property less than two miles away opens up.
By: Holly J. Wagner
Disney has always been a leader in home video promotion. While video has long been a movie industry stepchild, Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment (previously Home Video) has continually given the segment its promotional due.
Past video galas have included live animals for the launch of the direct-to-video hit Lion King II (still the highest-shipping DTV title of all time) to the Aladdin and the King of Thieves bash during the 1996 VSDA convention in Los Angeles, for which Disney brought in Robin Williams and carted in tons of sand, camels and various other oddities to turn Griffith Park into the mythical desert city of Agrabah.
I often fondly compare the Disney events to well-staged battles, with microphone bedecked publicists shouting orders to the troops. At one soiree for the Aristocats video release a few years back, I recall a frenzied publicist shouting in his mouthpiece, "We need more eclairs!" with the urgency of a platoon leader calling for reinforcements.
But seriously folks, Disney knows how to stage an event, and it's nice to see the studio continue its support of the video industry with gatherings such as this last weekend's Cinderella II: Dreams Come True premiere (see photos). Disney gave the direct-to-video title a launch worthy of its theatrical brethren, with a star-studded audience and appearances by Cinderella, Prince Charming, the Fairy Godmother and various other characters and voice talent from the film.
And why shouldn't the studio throw video a party. After all, video revenues represent more than half of the business. We may not always get the spotlight, but kudos to Disney for adding a little glamour to the packaged media arm of the industry.
By: Stephanie Prange
The surprise announcement that nine major electronics firms had agreed on a standard for next-generation DVD -- and that product could appear in stores as early as next year -- struck a major blow to proponents of digital VHS.
Previously, speculation had been that the new and improved DVD, which uses blue-violet semiconductor laser beams and has a capacity roughly equal to that of six of today's DVDs, was at least five years off, giving backers of the rival D-VHS a sufficient window to rally behind what some are calling videotape's last stand.
D-VHS is high-definition, something today's DVDs are not. Warner and Sony hold patents on DVD, which means that for every disc that some other studio sells, a tiny percentage of the proceeds must be handed over. Granted, all the studios are making money hand over fist with DVD, but egos being what they are, it pains rival studio heads to effectively pad the pockets of their competitors.
I've never been a fan of digital VHS, believing that tape is an imperfect medium, a means to an end -- the end being an optical medium like DVD or CD. Further, I believe the studios that decided to support D-VHS with product are short-sighted because they are willing to risk confusing the consumer with yet another digital format in return for some quick cash and the satisfaction of sticking it to Warner and Sony.
But with so-called "blue-laser" DVD bowing a year from now instead of five years down the pike, digital VHS is almost assured of failure. Its window of opportunity has just been slammed shut and, as far as I'm concerned, good riddance.
The last thing we need is Divx -- a competing technology that in kindest terms could be described as the proverbial fly in the ointment -- all over again.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
After five years of DVD parking itself in one-fourth of U.S. homes, it's reasonable now to ask, "Is repurposing [of Hollywood film fare] destined to be DVD's primary purpose?" Not any more than repurposed stage plays were destined to be the future of filmmaking, or repurposed radio shows the future of TV. Just as 3D animation is a quantum refinement of conventional, flat 2D animation, a new generation of content made 4DVD remains to be seen.
Long-form films endure, short subjects are obscure and freeform content waits to be explored -- developed with digital tools, driven by an abstract sensibility and deployed via platform portability. Five-inch DVDs (with even more compact variants to come) that contain a compilation of freeform images are viewable in all manner of venues (set-top or laptop) and mindsets (immersive or passive) and time frames (continuous or disjointed).
I've been enjoying my first viewing ever of The Bad and the Beautiful, the 50-year-old black-and-white MGM production (just released on Warner DVD) about Hollywood's snake pit, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring luminous legends Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner. It doesn't get more glamorous than that. Yet, as much a sucker as I am for elegant films of yesteryear, there's no denying this type of film plays like an artifact today. Its plot device of telling each character's story serially in flashback becomes a bit silly and stiff. Still, the 1952 winner of five Oscars is very entertaining for many of us who don't mind monochromatic diversions.
The Bad and the Beautiful is classic long-form filmmaking at mid-century. Freeform filmmaking at the turn of the century – the 21st Century -- can be glimpsed in The Best of Resfest Volume I, arriving in stores April 30 from Palm Pictures (no relation to the personal digital assistant company, but there's a cross-promotional opportunity there somewhere).
Res is the brand that identifies a bimonthly magazine and touring festival specializing in digital filmmaking, including what it confidently calls "the world's finest short films, documentaries, features, music videos …" You get the point. But I can't say I got the point of all of the "selection of 16 of the festival's most innovative films."
As usual with intensely personal, defiantly non-commercial artistic expression, some are cryptically self-indulgent, some fascinating, some tedious, some truly thought-provoking. In most cases, though, it's not the story or message that matters to these creators as much as the technique. At least, that's one viewer's take-away after watching the DVD. For that reason, the commercial value of most of these is difficult to divine. It's worth remembering that Resfest represents digital filmmaking's emergence as free form art, not the blossoming of a major market -- yet -- so expectations should be contained.
Also hard to determine in the realm of eccentric, independent filmmaking is the endgame. Apart from the proliferation of festivals – and at last count there are more than 700 a year in the U.S. alone – where does such work get exhibited, who pays to see it and how does the filmmaker fare financially?
In this case, Resfest is one of the places it gets exhibited and those who come to see it are fellow filmmakers enamored of the possibilities of desktop production. Res Media Group (RMG) says its "vast audience [is] professionals and consumers eager to be exposed to the new opportunities created by affordable digital filmmaking technology." It goes on to christen itself "the home of The Future of Filmmaking." Refest covers 14 cities on five continents, this year kicking off in San Francisco September 18. No matter the subjective viewer response to these shorts, the fact they are being given wider exposure on DVD is a good thing.
The opening film in Best of Resfest Volume I, titled Alfred, transpired so quickly, as I mounted my elliptical trainer, that I can't tell you much about it. The good news is if you want to check it out for yourself, all 100 seconds of it, you won't waste much time.
Tongues & Taxis is fun, frenetic animation in a cityscape setting that veers between anarchistic and sophomoric. At 7 minutes, 30 seconds, it ran a tad long for my taste.
Modern Life uses live-action and a fanciful technique to follow a couple's romantic, out-of-body trysts in the retro style of a silent film.
In the precious Pasta for War, clocking in at 4-plus minutes, there's the fertile seed of a concept, but the concoction tasted half-baked, whetting the appetite but leaving me hungry for something more zesty. I also didn't much care for 11:11, a three-minute journey in the desert that nonetheless felt tedious (although that was part of the point), for Cirkus or for Ground. They felt slightly pretentious at fit blush but it's also true that many of these shorts require multiple viewings to fully absorb, if not admire.
Among my favorites were Deformer, Snack and Drink, Luz and Latin Alive. The first, an introspective study of a marquee California skateboarder, is the longest film, at more than 15 minutes; the second shows off impressive mastery of desktop animation software; the third evokes an eerie sense of place; and the fourth, a neo-Sesame Street exercise in wordplay by Stefan Nadelman, arguably shows the most promise for a marketable talent.
The disc packaging and production is well done. Each film can be viewed with or without the maker's commentary, and there is a menu option on each as well for a text screen "About the Film," which provides technical credits, maker bio and a synopsis (which in some cases takes almost as long to read as the short is to watch). A well-designed, four-page printed insert also provides key data for each chaptered short, more than most major studios offer in their movie DVDs, which are frustratingly skimpy on documentation.
The target audience for Resfest is not necessarily your average consumer, but what used to be known in the ‘60s and ‘70s as "media freaks." In the ‘00s, they are not nearly as far outside the mainstream anymore, since video has long since become part of society's DNA structure.
Still, these are not Hollywood DVD commentaries. Here the talk track and text annotations focus on production techniques. If it helps you to know that director/producer/cinematographer/editor/sound designer Stephen X. Arthur used a 35mm Pentax still camera, then Adobe After Effects and Photoshop to make the 88-second Vision Point, the commentaries are worth your while. Even if you don't care about that, it's worth a look just to know where digital filmmaking is coming from.
That's one of the caveats about Best of Resfest. Its selections are culled from festivals held 1997 through 2000. Half of the 16 shorts deemed the "Best" were screened on the 2000 tour, two in 1999, and three each in 1998 and 1997. Apart from that progression suggesting the state of the art logically culminated in the most recent year of Resfests represented on this disc, it also betrays that the cutting-edge cachet Resfest claims is seriously undercut when its April 2002 DVD debut ignores any work produced or screened in the prior calendar year.
The press release says this is the first in a series, so it's presumed that the Best of Resfest 2001 will be covered in a subsequent DVD, assuming Volume I finds a market worth feeding similar compilations.
A word about post-literate filmmaking. A review excerpt about Palm's Sound + Motion Volume I, featuring music video clips, reads, "Easily outdating MTV." It took me more than one pass through that grammatically-challenged phrase to decipher it (at first it sounded to these ears like Sound + Motion was being called outdated; of course, the writer meant to say "easily dating MTV.")
My conclusion is that either today's video freaks need to read the written word more to clarify their verbal skills, or that those of us reared in an analog culture are the ones who soon will be marginalized by teetering in a tower of babble only we understand.
By: Bruce Apar
The recent spate of financial earnings reports from Blockbuster Video, Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery indicate some interesting trends.
First, among the three of them, we can expect about 600 new stores in 2002 worldwide. Blockbuster will open some 300 total stores in the U.S. and abroad, Hollywood plans on using the proceeds from a stock sale of 7 million new common shares to open 200 more stores and Movie Gallery looks to open 125 new stores in the rural and secondary markets it specializes in serving. Considering the economic slump across a broad spectrum of industries and regions around the world, such growth is refreshing and exciting -- especially for Hollywood Video, which has gone through a self-imposed moratorium on new store startups for more than a year.
One interesting comment from Hollywood Video president Mark Wattles is that he intends that his chain become the recognized "leader" in the sales of previously-viewed DVDs. This doesn't necessarily bode well for what we see here as a potentially eroding DVD price landscape in the coming year or two. As the release of DVD day and date becomes ubiquitous, it will be interesting to watch as specialty retailers expand their efforts to take some of the DVD sellthrough dollars from mass merchants via the previously viewed model. Already we are seeing some catalog and "B" title DVDs in mass merchant bins in the less than $10 range. How far used "A" title prices fall in the coming months will, indeed, be interesting to track, as well as how long it takes them to get from the rental shelf to the used bin.
These recent earnings reports also indicated a strong move to grow video game rentals. Blockbuster is expecting to double its revenues in games by next year and is taking the razor/blade approach to ensuring it gets there. The chain is adding PlayStation 2 players for sale in 3,000 locations and will add xBox and GameCube consoles for sale by Memorial Day. It's running a national promotion giving away 1,000 game consoles (250 each of the three platforms plus Gameboy Advance), and they just finished a 30-day "Game Pass" promotion offering discounts and loyalty points for a prepaid game rental card.
Hollywood has the game bug too, and will expand its in-store Game Crazy rental sections, which have proven to raise revenues by 35 percent in the 66 stores they are in. And Movie Gallery said this week it expects to see its video game share of total revenues rise up to about 13 percent this year.
As I have noted before in this column, surveys show that specialty retailers anticipate their video game revenues growing in 2002 on the basis of the three-platform game console race, so it will be interesting to see how the big fellows handle this opportunity. As far as the sales of used DVDs go I would very much like to hear how retailers are approaching this sector of their businesses.
How are you pricing and merchandising used DVD titles and what do you see as the future growth potential of this part of your business? Share your thoughts here.
By: Kurt Indvik
There's an interesting phenomenon going on in the toy world.
Toy manufacturers used to compete more for master licenses for popular children's characters and, while those investments have always been subject to the caprices of the market, it's a sign of the times that studios have to promise more now to get toy makers interested.
It doesn't take much to explain why toy makers want assurances that film and video franchises will go on long enough to keep their companion toys and games popular. Last week at the Toy Fair in New York, studios had to pony up promises of long-running series like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings and direct-to-video sequels like Lilo & Stitchto get toy makers on board.
To understand how the situation got where it is today, a little history lesson is in order
I'm a member of the Schoolhouse Rock generation. When we grew up, there was a federal law that required TV stations to ensure that a certain percentage of programming aimed at children was educational. The little Schoolhouse Rock mini-cartoons that used to air Saturday mornings in between the regular cartoon shows were a result of that law.
In the early 1980s the country's new president, Ronald Reagan, championed the interests of his friends in the broadcasting industry and helped to repeal the law about educational programming.
Before long, the cartoons on network television began shifting away from the Hanna-Barbera, Jay Ward and Warner Bros. fare we'd grown up on, giving way to what critics soon began to call the "program-length commercial."
The first domino in the chain was Strawberry Shortcake. The toys went to market before the cartoons ever showed up on TV. Over time that got increasingly common – the Care Bears, Rainbow Brite and other franchises followed.
And why not? For the toy makers this was a brilliant ploy. Instead of paying for Saturday morning advertising time, they could create a half-hour cartoon show and get the networks to pay them to air what was essentially an infomercial for the apple juice set.
Today many of those deals are struck in advance so the toys are ready and on the shelves on or before the day a movie or TV show debuts.
When the franchise starts with a book, like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, it's especially important to have merchandising in place ahead of the movie date to generate buzz and renew interest among the literary fans so they'll want to see the movie and buy the video.
Whatever way the deals are cut, the studios are shouldering the risk with the toy makers more now. Licensing characters gives them a cut of sales for items that advertise their movies, while the toy makers benefit from the popularity of a film or video to sell more toys.
It may be small comfort, but the video industry is not the only one in which the studios are starting to pay for deals they made with the devil when they had more control.
Tastes change. Formats change. Economies change and tables turn. In the end, it's all about leverage.
Now, back to the lessons of the Toy Fair. Maybe the moral of this story should be "Be careful whose patootie you kick on the way up because you might have to kiss it on the way down."
It seems the toy makers have gained an upper hand. Is "The Revenge of the Indies" far behind?
For a while it might have looked like studios becoming media giants would make them impervious to the needs of a few one- or two-store video dealers. But lately it's looking less and less that way. Video revenues account for a substantial percentage of many studios' overall revenues.
Indies don't have the same muscle as mass merchants -- when Wal-mart or Target talks, studios can't afford not to listen. Indies' only advantage is strength in numbers. Riding out the VHS-DVD transition will depend on working together to create and advance an agenda for their considerable portion of the industry. You can be sure nobody else is going to do it.
By: Holly J. Wagner
As DVD has exploded, studios are facing a bit of a dilemma in serving both the early movie buff fans of DVD and the new mainstream audience for the format.
The tension manifests itself in the full-screen/widescreen debate with studios sometimes offering both versions on separate DVDs to satisfy movies buffs, who prefer widescreen versions they feel more closely match the theatrical experience, and the newer, more mainstream viewers, who like the picture to fill the whole TV screen. This debate came to the fore with Warner Home Video's recent releases of two family films originally planned as full-frame editions only, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Cats and Dogs. After howls from DVD buffs, both were released in widescreen editions as well.
DVD early adopters and family audiences also have different tastes with regard to the extras offered on DVD. Early adopter-types seem to prefer the "making-of" features that reveal secrets behind the special effects wizardry and the filmmakers'technique. Meanwhile, the family audience prefers games and clever interactive extras. This came up recently when Warner announced DVD plans for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Peter Bracke, editor of DVDfile.com, told Video Store Magazine adult DVD fans (I affectionately call them the DVD Geeks) were miffed that the special features, which included lots of interactive games like a self-guided tour of the wizardry school, are too kid-oriented.
You only have to watch a kid interact with a DVD to see that they love animated menus and games. My 3 year old takes great delight in choosing between "cats" and "dogs" on the menu each time she begins the Cats and Dogs DVD. One time she'll pick "cats" and the next she'll choose "dogs." The choice merely determines what type of animated menu pops up, one with felines or one with canines. This feature is maybe amusing once for adults, but it provides endless entertainment for a 3 year old. Is it worth the memory space on the disc? A DVD buff might say no, but family viewers would likely say yes.
With only limited space on a DVD, studios have to make choices that may not satisfy every viewer. Even making the decision to release two different DVD SKUs can prompt controversy. Retailers have complained to us that customers sometimes mistakenly buy the wrong version (either widescreen or full-frame) and have to bring it back.
This is a subject on which I frankly pity the studios. It's hard to satisfy everyone, and, unlike VHS cassettes, which had their own widescreen/full-screen controversies, DVDs offer more and, therefore, provide more opportunities for complaints.
Do your customers prefer full-frame or widescreen movies? Why? Tell us here.
By: Stephanie Prange
You've got to feel sorry for Kmart. The venerable mass merchant, long a key player in video sales, is in the throes of bankruptcy, struggling to keep its shelves stocked with core products in what I believe is an uphill fight to retain customer loyalty.
The once-mighty chain, which just before the holidays was crowing about its elaborate video promotions for The Grinch and other hot video titles, is reduced to issuing press releases about any positive tidbit it can come up with. Just a few days ago, the chain issued a release trumpeting the support it is getting from business and community leaders -- including the free use of 10 billboards in Detroit.
I found that last press missive a bittersweet one. It's great to see people rallying around Kmart, but it's also sad to see the chain relying on free billboards to promote itself.
I sincerely hope I'm wrong, but I don't see Kmart surviving this mess. In many ways, Kmart has failed to keep up with the times, and in the process the chain has lost its niche.
Wal-Mart has become the place to go if all you want is low prices on a vast selection of goods. Target has positioned itself as a mini-Wal-Mart for yuppies, a discount convenience store, if you will, for an overall higher grade of goods.
Kmart has become stuck in the middle and the sad thing for the chain is that there really is no middle.
When I was growing up, Kmart was the low price leader, period. The chain should have remained there, or completely repositioned itself, as Target did, when it became clear Wal-mart would claim the cheapo prize.
Instead, Kmart tried a mish-mash of the two. Its premium brands, like Martha Stewart, were too far and too few to really change the store's character. Meanwhile, Kmart played the pricing game all wrong. Instead of keeping a careful eye on, say, a Wal-Mart moving into its business area and adjusting prices on key items accordingly, the chain tried to remain the low-cost leader in everything -- something it couldn't, and really didn't need to, do.
Compounding this image problem was what I call the "Can't Let Go Syndrome" -- maintaining underperforming stores long after common sense would have dictated closure -- and shoddy merchandising.
Granted, none of the mass merchants are known for their savvy merchandising, but at least Wal-Mart and Target appear to be trying. A typical Kmart store still reeks of confusion and, in today's fast-paced in-and-out-society, structure and order at retail is essential.
As I stated previously, I sincerely hope Kmart weathers this crisis and emerges stronger, better and more viable. But it's going to take a lot to turn this creaky old ship around.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
USA Home Entertainment takes good care of its best customers, and lately its best customers have taken care of business with USA by placing strong orders on its sports fare.
The first 10 days in February saw the company hosting those retailers and distributors who carry "big pencils," in the bygone vernacular of retail buyers, at NFL Super Bowl and NBA All-Star weekends. Also on hand were members of the media, including Video Store editor-in-chief Kurt Indvik (Super Bowl) and yours truly (NBA All-Star Game).
USA is looking at units exceeding 300,000 on its Super Bowl video, due March 4 (it is the first Super Bowl video released day-and-date on DVD and VHS). Then there's the quarter-million copies it shipped on its Ultimate Jordan title (nobody returns those babies), featuring some older player who keeps coming back from retirements, only to contend once again for league MVP honors. And let's not overlook the 75,000 units on a number called Allen Iverson: The Answer, featuring the NBA's 2001 MVP and scourge-turned-hero of the City of Brotherly Love.
Okay, so those record-breaking numbers -- this will be the biggest-selling Super Bowl video to date -- do have something to do with it being of the best Super Bowls in a decade -- right down to the breathless, edge-of-the-seat, Hollywood finish, in the apt phrase of USA's ebullient Home Entertainment president Joe Amodei. "It was a great game, and people want to relive it," he says, "and the fact New England hasn't had a championship team in long, long time, so they're embracing it." USA is planning a major premiere event at Boston Commons March 5 to herald the video's arrival on store shelves.
And it has something to do with Amodei and marketing whiz Sal Scamardo working furiously to include U2's entire halftime performance on the DVD (sorry, VHS laggards, no U2 for you), a notable coup. Super Bowl meets Super Group, now on one video.
Having just seen the DVD's check disc Feb. 14, Amodei says "the U2 footage looks phenomenal. What stands out for me is the tribute to America. It works as an historical document that brings us back to the week and a half after 9/11 and what was going on in football stadiums across the country. Comments made by the Giants' Michael Strahan and Troy Vincent from the Philadelphia Eagles are very touching."
There are also segments on former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan, longtime team broadcaster Dave Cappelletti, as well as close-ups on coach Bill Belichick, quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady, and running back Antowain Smith. There's enough packed onto the DVD that USA decided, while at the NBA All-Star Weekend, to expand from a five-gigabyte DVD to a DVD-9.
USA's sports success of late also has something to do with its showcasing marquee hoopsters like Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson (whose boyhood home, as USA's excellent Iverson video reveals, was on Jordan Road). Iverson's address these days is Phat Philly.
But you make your own good fortune, and in USA's case it derives from a market-savvy playbook written 18 months ago by Coach Amodei and his staff, under the aegis of USA Films chairman Scott Greeenstein.
In 2000, they went to the major sports leagues for which they hold distribution rights -- NBA, NFL and NHL -- to tell them the sports video business "has all but dried up," reports Amodei today. The remedy was to "stop doing normal, greatest hits-style videos and concentrate on significant players and significant teams. The key is to focus on a team's geographic area and throw all efforts at that city instead of on a national basis. That way, we are able to make our numbers."
A year and a half later, that forward-looking game plan is putting lots of points up on the company's P&L scoreboard. On releases with heavy local but scant nationwide appeal, like a NHL video commemorating the Toronto Maple Leafs' 75th anniversary, Amodei notes orders are ten times what they were previously.
The big story here, once again, is the inordinate power of DVD, especially on sports fans. That is to say, even though while market estimates put DVD players in 25 percent or more of U.S. homes at this point, those 300,000 units ordered on the Super Bowl video are 60 percent DVDs. In the case of Iverson's 75,000 copies, it's more like 70 percent. In four years, for Super Bowl XL -- logowear marketers will go to town on that one -- VHS copies will be as will be as hard to find as a game day ticket.
And the fact U2 wanted its performance on the Super Bowl DVD but not on the videocassette speaks volumes. Clearly, VHS picture and sound quality don't exactly enhance Bono's or his band's image in a world of entertainment defined by digital.
"DVD is helping us to revitalize this business," remarks Amodei. No surprise really. When sports are presented in anything other than linear, game-length mode -- as in an anthology or highlights or player biography -- VHS isn't in the same league as DVD when it comes to user convenience and content flexibility.
Amodei notes that 18 months ago, "when we first announced DVD titles, they all died right away. Now, the saturation is there."
And a final word about that 300,000-and-still-growing figure on USA's Super Bowl release. Some smart-aleck ninth-grader, who was chaperoning me for the weekend, offered unsolicited business advice to Amodei on how to jack up sales further: "It'd be in excess of 400,000 if you put the Playmates in." Amodei walked away from that remark shaking his head. Or maybe he was on his way to place a call to Playboy.
Tall Order: Pictured above (front, l to r) are USA Home Entertainment president Joe Amodei and USA Films chairman Scott Greenstein, who greeted three NBA greats at USA's NBA All-Star Weekend for distributors in Philadelphia Feb. 10 and 11. On hand were (rear, l to r) Moses Malone, Bill Russell and David Thomson.
By: Bruce Apar
This is a bald-faced promotional pitch for Video Store Magazine's Readers' Picks Oscar poll, which will appear here beginning Monday. Voting is open to all home video industry participants 18 years and older and you'll be entered into a drawing to win one of three DVD players! (You can also request a written ballot by writing to us at our Santa Ana, Calif., office).
Each of the five weeks leading up to the Academy Awards March 24, we will feature five or so different categories of the total 24 major Oscar categories in which you can vote for your favorite nominees. On the last week we will post a ballot for all 24 categories, in case you happened to miss a ballot one week. Voting will close 9 a.m. EST March 21. Video Store Magazine will then issue a public announcement on the results of the voting Friday, March 22.
Of course the point of all this is to generate some fun and interesting results as to who the video industry thinks ought to be getting those golden statuettes. But it also points to the Academy Awards' strong impact on home video throughout the year.
Last year at around this time, Video Store Magazine reported that, according to VideoScan, Gladiator, which had received 12 Oscar nominations, experienced a 65 percent increase in DVD sales over the previous week the week after the nominations were announced. Similarly, Erin Brockovich, which got five Oscar nods, saw increase of 47 percent for sales of its DVD, and 46 percent increased for the VHS version.
This year we have many more titles nominated already in the retail pipeline and several more set to bow prior to the awards. (Check out next week's issue of Video Store Magazine for a complete update.) Whether for rental or sales, retailers have no better promotional vehicle than the Oscars to drive revenue from here through the early part of the fall. You can fashion your own in-store, take advantage of the VSDA's "Oscar Night Comes Home" retailer promotion kit ($30 gets you posters, section headers and a raft of other goodies) developed with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Expect some aggressive marketing support from the studios as well.
I encourage you to participate in the Readers' Picks poll. It will be fun for all, but more importantly we'll use the results for public relations to remind the media of the important role home video plays in the move industry and to add to the consumer interest in renting and buying home videos. See you at the polls.
By: Kurt Indvik