Synergy forges life-long partnerships at Columbia TriStar

Synergy is not just a buzzword at Columbia TriStar, it's considered the first step in the life of a motion picture property, wherein a multidepartmental team sets out to maximize promotional opportunities for all of a property's incarnations. This cross-division orchestration...
July 1, 1999

Synergy is not just a buzzword at Columbia TriStar, it’s considered the first step in the life of a motion picture property, wherein a multidepartmental team sets out to maximize promotional opportunities for all of a property’s incarnations. This cross-division orchestration results in a bottom-line impact on the video iteration of the property. According to Mark Workman, VP of global strategic marketing, this was not always the case.

‘The initial premise of synergy was to take a traditional movie property through its first [theatrical] window-to have the entire company look at the franchise for promotional opportunities,’ Workman notes. Now, executives also strategically coordinate video release dates, video tie-ins and promotional opportunities, well in advance of the theatrical release. ‘Early awareness is key for certain potential partners,’ says Columbia TriStar Home Video’s manager of advertising and promotions Adam Lewinson. If a partner expresses interest in a title, they receive relevant materials such as the studio’s strategic release schedule and, when footage is not yet available, a script.

A current synergy success story is Columbia TriStar’s Muppets in Space (slated for release this month), which signed key video partners months in advance of its theatrical debut. Movie partner Travelodge joined in with a Muppets in Space promotion, wherein three Muppet videos (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and Muppets Take Manhattan) would be offered free to repeat visitors to the hotel chain through a ‘bonus points’ program. Head-of-tape promos on the videos promote the summer movie.

The synergy team’s primary mandate is to offer partners ‘the perfect opportunity to own the whole system,’ Workman notes. However, due to any number of mitigating factors (a less than stellar theatrical release, or a partner whose business doesn’t need the push at the time of the video release), that’s not everyone’s cuppa. Sometimes, Workman says, the response is along the lines of, ‘the first time the sales force hears about [a movie] it’s cool, the second time they hear about it, it might not be.’

In some instances, partners choose to stay involved for all phases of a property, says Workman, citing Ray Ban (a theatrical partner on Men in Black), which remained involved with video, spurring a unique opportunity to sell the video at partner The Sunglass Hut’s retail outlets. If a promotional partner decides not to stay on for video, they may be replaced by a competitor in the same category. The team may also pursue partners from other categories, capitalizing on strengths of the film that were discovered during its theatrical outing. Typically the box office has to be there to motivate the tie-ins and engender positive feeling towards the video. However, Workman says the video window allows the team to distill the real essence of people’s reactions to a film, unfettered by the filmmakers’ aspirations, thereby opening windows to different promotional tacks. Unexpected minor characters may become stars, or a film touted as serious could turn out to be a comedy, or vice versa, indicating new likely rental/sales demos and tie-in targets.

One tool the synergy teams uses to keep theatrical partners on board is choosing a video release date that works with the partners’ strategy. Duracell stayed involved with Godzilla from its theatrical run through the home video window because the video release broke in the fourth quarter. ‘The fourth quarter is good for them,’ Workman notes, citing high Christmas volume for the battery business. Fourth quarter release dates are optimum for attracting partners, but crowded release slates force synergy teams to carefully consider which video properties to release during that window.

Garnering the holiday video release slot this year is Sony Pictures’ summer feature Big Daddy. Workman believes some titles attract partners who want to participate in video or DVD, but not theatrical.

‘We ask ourselves: Are there unique customers who don’t want the movie, but still want in,’ says Workman. ‘Maybe dog food brands are the video, and cereal is the movie.’

‘Companies cross-promote for various reasons,’ agrees Lewinson. ‘Some companies prefer cross-couponing and head-of-tape commercial spots.’

DVD technology opens up new technological avenues, such as those Sony employed for the Ghostbusters 15th anniversary DVD. The DVD contains a visual and audio comment track in which director Ivan Reitman and the film’s producer are seen from the back at the bottom of the frame, commenting on the video as it spools. Beyond its pop-up video creative potential, in terms of promotions, ‘DVD is essentially the same real estate as video,’ Lewinson notes, adding that so far, packaged goods companies are most likely to choose DVD tie-ins.

Bundling together TV and movie properties that reach the same demo is a popular synergistic strategy this year, especially when targeting teens, Workman notes. Plans are afoot to bundle summer teen flick Dick with video outtakes from Dawson’s Creek, then to cross-promote the video with third parties such as record companies and broadcast or cable networks. Similar cross-promotions can be expected to materialize for Sony’s other teen-oriented properties, including TV series Party of Five and a fall debuting series called Time of Your Life with Jennifer Love Hewitt, as well as the video releases of Cruel Intentions, Jawbreaker, Urban Legend and Can’t Hardly Wait. Bottom line per Workman: ‘packaging and promotions can change how many are bought versus rented.’

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