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Freaky Fridays

3 Oct, 2011 By: Chris Tribbey

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Studios are releasing more titles on Friday this year

Street date Tuesday has a long tradition in the home video industry, in part to help drive traffic to retail on a slow day.

Studios occasionally have broken that practice by releasing a title on another weekday — usually a Friday — to make it stand out from the crowd, but 2011 has seen a higher than usual amount of Friday releases, most recently with Paramount’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Sept. 30).

Looking at the results of Friday releases so far this year, it’s a strategy — whether due to content quality, collapsing windows or a lower emphasis on brick-and-mortar retail — that works.

Of the Friday releases so far this year — Megamind, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Rango, Arthur, X-Men: First Class and Star Wars: The Complete Saga — all debuted at No. 1 on the sales charts, with the exception of Narnia (No. 4), Arthur (No. 7) and Star Wars (No. 3). Potter remained on top for another two weeks, while Rango stayed No. 1 through its second.

“I like to think it’s brilliant marketing and strategy,” laughed Scott Guthrie, EVP of Paramount Home Entertainment, which chose Friday to release the latest “Transformers” installment. “I think all the studios are figuring out what their competitive edge can be. A three-day weekend can be just as important as a five- [to] six-day window, if all the elements are in place.

“I don’t think you’ll see any one date,” he said of the future. “We won’t all go to Friday, or all back to Tuesday.”

Consumers have at least four more Friday releases to look forward to this year: Green Lantern (Oct. 14), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 (Nov. 11), The Smurfs (Dec. 2) and Friends With Benefits (Dec. 2).

“I do think this is the most I’ve ever seen,” said Bill Hunt, editor of TheDigitalBits.com. “To me, a Friday date has always made a lot of sense. When you get your favorite film on Blu-ray, the first thing you want to do is take it home and watch it right away.”

The family appeal of content likely plays a part in Friday releases, according to Russ Crupnick, entertainment industry analyst with The NPD Group.

“That audience, and their parents, are often beginning to think about entertainment later in the week, and using social media and related discovery tools — like Flixster — to figure out what to watch as the work/school weekends,” he said. “It could be that ‘bang’ on Friday gives home video a better chance of competing with all the other entertainment options and creates some news value.”

Guthrie said Paramount looks at many factors when determining a Friday release, including competing releases, theatrical releases, broadcast TV schedules, and even video games releases.

Consumer purchase intent is probably one of the most important pieces, he said.

Other studios also target Friday releases to elevate a title above the clutter of entertainment options.

“We went with a Friday street date [for X-Men: First Class], not only because it’s a competitive time of year and we wanted it to stand out, but because [this title] deserves that special attention,” Simon Swart, EVP and GM of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, said when that title was released Sept. 9.

The thinking behind a Friday street date involves a lot more than hype, said Scott Hettrick, publisher and editor-in-chief of 3DHollywood.net. It signifies the changing nature of the retail landscape. Tuesday releases used to ensure that even the smallest mom-and-pop stores got titles in time to mark, repackage and shelve titles by the weekends. Now the mom-and-pops — and brick-and-mortar in general — aren’t as big a section of the marketplace, leaving the studios less incentive to worry about what a Friday street date does to retail.

“The dynamics of the marketplace have changed so dramatically in the last two decades that those issues are not as critical or relevant anymore,” Hettrick said. “And it’s easier for studios to create more consumer excitement around a weekend release.”

Jimmie Townsend, president of Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Video Sales — a 30-year mainstay in the video business before it stopped selling DVD in September — concurred that a Friday street date plays havoc with smaller retailers.

“With a Friday delivery, assuming you get it on Thursday, it makes it a lot more difficult, especially if you’re dealing with central receiving and need to get product out to multiple stores,” he said.

Guthrie acknowledged the difficulties retailers could face with a Friday street date, including the effect on advertising and labor schedules. However, retailers are able to overcome these issues, he said.

“We have to work with our brick-and-mortars on a Friday release,” Guthrie said. “Over the last seven to 10 years, they’ve developed a business model where their labor force [is scheduled] to prep Monday night for a Tuesday title. A Friday release can impact labor costs, and we get in front of it by working with retailers."

For both studios and retailers, Friday street dates offer yet another challenge: forecasting results. Models have been based on a five-day sales window for that first week for years. Since the historical data is slim, it is hard to predict whether a strong Friday showing for a new title will mean strong sales for the entire weekend, Guthrie noted.

A strong Friday “doesn’t mean you’ll have a great Sunday,” he said.

John Latchem contributed to this report.

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