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Creativity a Tool to Revive Catalog Business

24 May, 2010 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Studio marketers have a difficult challenge ahead of them. They need to push Blu-ray Disc sales to make up for continued consumer disinterest in standard DVD. And yet at the same time they have to figure out ways to make DVD, as mature a format as it is, appealing to consumers again, at least until Blu-ray Disc truly becomes a mass-market item.

With new releases the strategy is pretty simple — and the results, increasingly hit or miss. Promote the title as much as you can, both among the masses and among specific niches. Tie it in with anything that makes sense, and don't let up until several weeks after release. Week one simply isn't as critical as it once was.

For theatrical catalog, the most common strategy is simply to slap an anniversary tag on the package and lower the price — with steadily diminishing returns. Consumers will only buy the same movie over and over again to a point — then they throw up their hands and cry, “Enough.” Why isn't the 25th anniversary edition of Movie X selling? Maybe because the film's fan base already has bought the initial DVD release, the 15th anniversary edition, the director's cut, the ultimate edition and the 20th anniversary edition. In the meantime, consumers have amassed hundreds of other DVDs as well, so many that there's simply no more room in their homes for more.

And yet as any good marketer knows, consumers will buy that 25th anniversary edition if there is a compelling reason for them to do so. And price just isn't one of those reasons.

The folks at Warner Home Video's theatrical catalog department are fully aware of the need to create a compelling reason for consumers to buy their library titles. That's why the division, under the direction of Jeff Baker and George Feltenstein, has created an incredible product line with its Ultimate Collector's Editions — lavish boxed sets that command premium price tags and come with all sorts of extra content and additional goodies, like books, postcards, reproductions of programs and, in the case of The Wizard of Oz, even a watch.

MGM Home Entertainment, under the guidance of veteran executive Eric Doctorow, also deserves a callout here. MGM's is mostly a catalog business, and time and time again, the studio has come up with truly captivating packages or programs to remarket old movies. Celebrity gift sets, each with four movies in collector-quality packaging, are breathing new life, and respectable sales, into deep-catalog movies that on their own wouldn't attract much attention. The Decades Collection, with iconic films from a specific decade packaged with a nostalgic booklet and CD with eight hit songs, is another remarkably clever marketing tool. And let's not discount the United Artists brand's 90th anniversary campaign, with a flagship collection of 90 UA films and a series of successful retail-driven anniversary events.

I should mention that both Warner and MGM also were pioneers in MOD (manufacturing on demand), a creative new business model that provides studios with a viable way to exploit titles that otherwise would not be available to consumers through regular retail channels.

By developing these and other clever initiatives to drive catalog sales, both Warner and MGM have kept their market shares relatively stable over the last four years even as the overall theatrical catalog business has tanked.

There's a lesson here, my friends ...

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