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Smaller Titles Deserve Love Too

5 Sep, 2012 By: Thomas K. Arnold

I can almost see our industry executives cringing at the news that this summer’s box office tally was down a “whopping” 3% from last year. The media, of course, made a big deal of this slight drop, with the Wall Street Journal running an article headlined “Summer Box Office Falters” and noting that despite a strong opening with The Avengers, “nearly every other summer film failed to live up to expectations.”

In our little corner of the business, everyone’s already nervous in the weeks leading up to the fourth quarter, where the bigger studios typically generate up to 40%, or more, of their total annual revenue. It’s never easy — we always seem to set our expectations too high; we always seem to run up against another title even though we waited until the last minute to set the date and everyone promised to keep it hush-hush; we didn’t get anywhere near the line-of-sight or endcap visibility we were promised.

This fourth quarter, once again, we will live or die by the hits. And if the theatrical hits underperformed this summer — albeit by a mere 3%, overall — well, then, it only stands to reason that we could be looking at a down home video season, as well. Not good.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in the early days of video rental, our business thrived on the principle of “consumer dissatisfaction” — which essentially held that consumers are so keen on watching movies at home that even if the movie they came in for is out of stock, they’ll just as happily pick up something else.

That went out the door even before DVD tipped the business toward sellthrough — remember all those early copy-depth and revenue-sharing programs designed to help rental dealers bring in more and more copies of hits on the cheap — and it’s never come back, at least not in the world of packaged media.

But in the other entertainment forms that are competing for viewer eyeballs, there’s less dependence on the hits. Take the wacky world of YouTube, for instance — no telling what’s going to be the next viral video to crack 10 million views. And on Facebook, kids as well as adults spend hours upon hours reading status updates and clicking on links, curious not because they’ve been told to go here for "The Next Big Thing" but, well, because they are curious.

If only there was a way to instill some of that curiosity back into our business. How do we get consumers to look beyond the hits, to sample some of the great lesser-known product out there? I just saw a great little zombie movie from Anchor Bay, The Dead, that’s as inventive as it is gory. But unless it’s on an endcap at Target the week before Halloween, it probably won’t get anywhere near the audience it deserves.

Maybe the studios should get together and create a YouTube channel in which a trusted, third-party source — Home Media is volunteering — each week talks about the week’s new releases and shows brief clips of each new film. Maybe Facebook pages should be created for virtually every movie that comes out on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, not just the big theatrical hits, with unique content and contests and other ways to fan excitement.

Maybe we need to make shopping for discs seem hip again — let’s get more video store or video department scenes in movies. Think product placement; if it works for Pepsi or Diet Coke it’s surely going to work for our business.

So far this year, home video sales have rebounded and we’re likely to finish the year flat with, or even up from, 2011. Let’s get inventive, creative and aggressive and put the spark back into our business.

Our whole business — not just the hits.

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About the Author: Thomas K. Arnold

Thomas K. Arnold

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