The release of Buster & Chauncey’s Silent Night later this month will mark Columbia TriStar Home Video’s first original DTV title. This ground-breaking debut highlights a very busy year for the studio which has released 10 videos so far this year, seven more than in all of 1997.
The decision to buttress its presence in the kidvid sell-through arena, in part, has been based on the increase of Columbia TriStar Pictures’ family- and kid-oriented theatrical releases (Matilda, Jumanji and Fly Away Home, for example) over the last couple of years. As well, the strong sales performance of both genres in the sell-through business was another factor that led to the studio’s ramped-up sell-through strategy, says Paul Newman, director of family entertainment acquisitions and production at CTHV.
Newman et al acknowledge, however, that relying exclusively on original material will not provide the flow of titles required to compete with kidvid giants like Disney and Warner Bros. CTHV has employed a hybrid strategy, mixing its original DTV productions and kid and family fare from its theatrical division with third-party acquisitions.
‘We’re not the ones with a Disney-sized vault of titles,’ says Newman. ‘As a studio, we’re looking for properties that are going to have long-term value.’
Properties like the Berenstain Bears fit this bill like a glove. In June, CTHV bought the BB catalog, announcing plans to distribute existing titles and to produce a direct-to-video feature based on the popular series of kids books. During that same month, the company inked a deal with Scholastic Productions for the North American home video rights to Animorphs. Both deals came on the heels of CTHV’s distribution agreement with Jim Henson Home Entertainment, announced in May. The first of the Henson videos, two episodes of Bear in the Big Blue House and Muppet Family Christmas, were released in September.
To better the odds its titles will have at retail, CTHV is coordinating its video releases with the theatrical releases of Columbia TriStar Pictures whenever possible. For Christmas 1999, CTHV will release the DTV title Trumpet of the Swan at the same time the blockbuster kidflick Stuart Little begins hitting the box office. The connection between the two movies is that both are based on books by popular children’s author E.B. White. CTHV is also working with Sony Signatures, the licensing and merchandising arm of Sony Pictures, to develop a merchandising program around Berenstain Bears DTV release for the spring of next year.
‘It’s a completely synergistic relationship,’ says Newman. ‘We’re getting the chance to cross-promote our titles with the licenses Sony Signatures brings to the table, and Sony Signatures is getting the chance to add something new to their licensing program.’
With a comprehensive merchandising and promotional game plan in place, all that’s left for CTHV to do is to decide on a consistent branding strategy for its family and children’s videos. At the moment, the brand name ‘Columbia TriStar Family Collection’ is set against a gold banner on clamshell packaging, but, says Newman, CTHV has not settled on this look. ‘We’re currently in the process of deciding what our branding strategy will be.’