After a two-year wait, Warner Home Video is getting into the direct-to-video business in a big way.
Next month, the company will launch Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero, its second direct-to-video title. The 70-minute animated release will skew to a younger demographic than the three Batman movies, targeting kids age six to 14 and families. Video, mass-discount, music, toy and grocery stores in the U.S. and Canada will carry the title at a suggested retail price of US$19.96. International rollout will follow later in the year.
Warner entered the direct-to-video arena in late 1995 with Tiny Toons: How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Dan Capone, director of marketing at Warner Home Video, admits that the title did not produce outstanding results, partly because it wasn’t heavily promoted and the direct-to-video business hadn’t taken off.
Now, the time is right. ‘Direct-to-video is a growing, thriving portion of the video industry,’ says Capone. Other studios have won audiences for direct-to-video sequels, including Universal with a Land Before Time series and Disney with Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast products. Warner will release at least three other direct-to-video titles, all for family audiences, this year.
Batman is also the right franchise to make headway in direct-to-video, says Capone. ‘Batman is hugely popular right now with kids,’ says Capone, thanks to the Saturday morning Batman-Superman hour on Kids’ WB! and a syndicated Batman and Robin series. And more than 35 million units of the Batman films on video have sold to date. Capone acknowledges that the last Batman film did not do as well as the previous two with teen and older viewers, but it was well received by kids.
Compared to advertising and promotional spending for feature films, direct-to-video titles tend to be considerably less costly. Still, extensive efforts are needed to build the same level of awareness that customers would have for the video release of a film. And as the direct-to-video business continues to grow, campaigns are becoming bigger and more sophisticated. Warner is supporting the launch of Subzero with more than US$1 million in television and print advertising. Promotions include a free Batman and Robin Cartoon Maker CD-ROM, a US$3 rebate toward the purchase of the video and Act II Popcorn, a Warner Bros. 75th anniversary savings book, a Kids’ WB! watch-and-win promotion and personalized book offers. A trailer has appeared on kids videos such as Space Jam, Batman & Robin and Free Willy 3: The Rescue, as well as adult-targeted titles. The product will be part of themed displays for Warner Bros.’ 75th anniversary on May 19 and July 28. And Warner is in discussions with Hasbro about creating displays that feature Hasbro’s Batman toys and the video.
Warner is aiming its upcoming titles at families because direct-to-video has fared well with this demographic. ‘There are not that many theatrical films that really are suitable for a family audience,’ says Capone. ‘Families are shopping at places where videos are sold more often than other demographics. [Families] understand video; they know video. Plus, kids like [programming] that [can be] repeated.’