If the number of DVD movie titles being released each month is any indication, film companies are confident that the digital medium will become as common as VHS. Early adopters of the technology have eagerly supported it, but whether the medium will successfully translate into the family and kids market has yet to be seen.
DVD, or digital video disc, has been on the North American market for just under two years, and of the 1,500 titles being sold, only 10% are family films, and fewer than that are animated.
‘It will be a while before we know how well it will work with kids,’ says Amy Jo Donner, director of the DVD Video Group, an industry-funded nonprofit corporation that promotes awareness of the technology. ‘But DVDs are doing far better than CDs did when they were first introduced 15 years ago, so we think interest will increase as people become more familiar with it.’
According to statistics provided by DVD Video Group, only 35,000 CD units were sold in their first year compared to the 350,000 DVD units sold since April 1997.
Will the DVD appeal-theater-quality sound and picture, as well as extra features, such as behind-the-scenes footage and interviews-to the under 12 set?
‘I don’t expect it will matter to preschoolers, but as home theater becomes more commonplace, I expect that DVD, especially those that have added features, might really appeal to families,’ says Ken Graffeo, senior VP of marketing at PolyGram Video in New York. This fall, the company will release three films on DVD-Barney’s Great Adventure: The Movie, The Borrowers and the theatrical musical, Cats. ‘I also think that as more and more places rent DVDs as opposed to just selling them, families will be more likely to invest in a system.’
Since April 1997, 100 Blockbuster video outlets across the U.S. have been testing the viability of DVD sales and rentals. The response, according to spokesperson Liz Greene, has been positive, and the company plans to expand the business by adding 500 stores in the next year. Both rental and sell-through costs for DVD are similar to VHS tapes, which also make them appealing, says Greene. Discs cost about US$25 to US$30, and DVD players start at US$400.
Sony Wonder is one youth-targeted firm which has aggressively pursued the business. Of the 13 DVD films the company is launching this year, four-Elmo Saves Christmas, Elmopalooza, Sesame Street’s 25th Birthday and The Rainbow Fish-are for kids. DVD music videos are another category that Sony expects will grow, especially as kids enter their teens.
‘This technology enables you to experience a music video as if it were a concert by allowing you to decide who you want to watch and hear,’ says Wendy Moss, senior VP of marketing at Sony Wonder. ‘Music is already important to preteens and teens, and using an interactive technology is something that will make it even more popular with young people.’
Many entertainment companies have been quick to attach themselves to the new technology. However, Disney has just a few of its titles, such as Mary Poppins and Toy Story, on the shelves, while classic Disney animated films, perhaps the best-selling VHS videos on the market, are not. In reality, it is difficult for parents to jump on the bandwagon until the leader in children’s entertainment rolls out in force.
‘This was the case with VHS tapes when they came on the market, so we know that it is only a matter of time,’ says Donner. ‘The studios have told us that they can’t get titles out fast enough, which means that interest is there and that it will eventually trickle down to everyday consumers.’