Home video distributors probably wish there were more people like Beth Hundman. The mother of two from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, enjoys purchasing home videos, both at retail and via catalogue. As collectors of Disney films, she and her husband take advantage of special offers on merchandise when acquiring the videos.
But studios may be seeing less of the Hundmans’ dollars. As their daughter grows older, money once allocated to videos is now being spread to other entertainment options, such as educational software and video games.
In the mad fight to market home video to consumers, studios and distributors must keep in mind that parents look for bargains, and rely on established brand names, their own childhood memories and recommendations from other parents.
That bodes well for the Disneys of the world, but for newer programs, especially those lacking a TV or film component, establishing a beachhead in the ever-competitive children’s home video market is not guaranteed.
KidScreen spoke with a random sampling of consumers with children to find out their likes and dislikes about how videos are merchandised.
Buying vs. renting
There’s a dividing line between parents who purchase and parents who rent videos, and it comes when a child is around five years of age. Parents with children under five tend to purchase home videos; those with older children rent. ‘When they were younger, I bought more videos because they would watch the same one a million times over,’ says Suzie H., a homemaker from Scarsdale, New York. For her, the cost efficiency of purchasing videos has diminished because now videos outlive their usefulness much more quickly.
Content, entertainment and value are as equal to, or greater than, price in influencing the decision-making process. Most parents believe that video prices are fair, and when replay is factored in, a bargain. The purchase of higher-priced videos may be put off for special occasions, such as birthdays or holidays.
Parents shop for videos at mass-market retailers such as Target, Price Club or Kmart, rather than a large video chain, such as Blockbuster, because of convenience and price. ‘I go to Costco because I’m there anyway doing other shopping,’ says Lori Reimer from Seattle, Washington. Westerville, Ohio, resident Dawn Walters purchases videos at Kmart. ‘I don’t normally ever rent videos, so I’m never at Blockbuster in the first place,’ she says. ‘I’ve never thought about buying movies there.’
Our parental panel feels that mass-market retail stores offer better value and more sales and, most importantly, mean one less trip to another store. ‘We don’t buy at the video store because we’re not there,’ says Beth Hundman.
Many parents avoid stores completely and order from catalogues. Anita Hollander is a disabled mom who lives in New York City. Between work and mobility restrictions, Hollander finds that ordering by phone gets the job done quickly and efficiently. The Hundmans enjoy buying Disney videos through a catalogue because of the special offers available only through catalogue ordering.
Promotional pros and cons
When buying videos, our panel members usually know what they want to purchase before leaving home, but when renting, they spend more time browsing before making a decision.
Marketing techniques such as in-store displays have very little effect on these buyers, especially on those who shop at discount retail stores that keep costs low by not having such displays in the first place.
Renters find displays and movie posters helpful in assisting them make their choices because they’re usually unaware of what’s newly available. ‘Often, my kids see the display and start nagging me to get it,’ says Suzie H.
The parents appreciate the idea of cross-promotional offers when purchasing videos, but find them a nuisance in reality. A main complaint, especially with Disney videos, is that they are too burdensome to fulfill to receive any benefit. Other complaints are that enclosed coupons are for products the consumers don’t normally use or don’t want to try, or for items that make for unnecessary purchases.
‘I don’t bother with them,’ says Sue Pfeiffer, a mother of two from Robesonia, Pennsylvania. ‘You get the coupons, you put them on the counter and three months later, they’re still sitting on the counter.’
‘At first, we thought cross-promotion was cool,’ Anita Hollander says, referring to Disney videos. ‘Then we found out that you had to buy an enormous amount of things to get a rebate, so we got turned off by it.’ Hollander suggests that easy-to-use manufacturer’s coupons would be more enticing to her than rebate offers.
‘I have certain name brands that I purchase,’ says Dawn Walters. ‘Cross-promotional offers do not persuade my decision on buying a video. I usually pitch them.’
Many parents say they don’t mind or pay attention to cross-promotions that appear on the videos themselves, such as previews of upcoming films. However, these promotions transfix their children. Every parent who had purchased a video of The Hunchback of Notre Dame commented on how the preview for Hercules has their children demanding to be taken to the film.
That’s not always appreciated. ‘Those promotions make it very difficult on parents,’ says Glenn Hershkowitz, a father of four from Westchester, New York. ‘It forces parents to say ‘no’ and puts them in the situation of being the bad guy, when they shouldn’t have to be the bad guy.’ While Hershkowitz usually gives in and purchases what his kids wants, he has his limits. ‘If it’s a good value or isn’t priced unnecessarily high, I may buy it,’ he says. ‘The problem is, a lot of this stuff is a blatant rip-off.’
Wither video? Hello software!
If parents are buying fewer home videos, what do they purchase instead? The influx of PCs and video game systems have taken a chunk of the home video market because the educational and entertainment replay-ability factor is greater for older kids.
Karen Forer, a divorced mom from Santa Monica, California, says that while her 10-year-old son enjoys renting videos, he prefers that she buy him the latest computer games. Forer has never purchased a video and has no intention of ever doing so, because she wants her son to be engaged in other activities.
Even though a loyal Disney video purchaser like Beth Hundman will continue to add to her family’s collection, her family is spending more money on educational computer software such as The Magic School Bus or Busytown as her eldest daughter prepares for kindergarten.
We’ve got ideas
Given the chance to change something about the way home video is marketed, most of our parental council suggest offering more time-saving alternatives, such as ordering from catalogues, ordering over the Internet or even a pay-per-view children’s channel. ‘I’d rather not go to the store if I don’t have to,’ says Karen Forer. ‘It’s just an extra thing that I have to do.’
Parents also want more information about the content of videos. Most parents screen videos prior to letting their children watch them, but many feel underserved by a lack of detail as to age-appropriateness, violence, language and mature situations. ‘At my son’s age , I rent movies that we haven’t seen as a family,’ says Suzie H. ‘The more information a box can give me, the more informed a decision I can make.’
Lori Reimer complains that some companies repackage cartoon shorts without saying so. She can’t tell from reading the box if the cartoons are new, but the moment the video starts playing, her son can. ‘It’s irritating,’ she says. ‘If I already have it, why am I paying for it again?’
Parents want to give their children positive entertainment experiences. To do this, they need the proper information to make the right decisions. They don’t care about flash and sizzle as much as quality, convenience and maybe saving a buck in the process. That encourages families like the Hundmans not only to look at video as an option to entertain their kids, but also as a pleasant way for the family to spend time together.