Despite continual change in the video retail market and intense shelf-space competition, Canadian-produced kids home video releases are continuing to do well south of the border. Respected family and children’s producers are enjoying success selling their video wares to Americans, boasting a national character roster including Nelvana’s Franklin, Cinar’s Arthur and Sullivan’s Anne of Green Gables.
Canadian producers continuously release video to the U.S. at a rate of 10 to 15 per year for the bigger players. The allure of releasing videos State-side is clear from the perspective of the producers.
‘The U.S. seems to have a voracious appetite, especially within the children’s market, for good quality, engaging content for children,’ says Andrew Witkin, VP of North American licensing for Nelvana. The Toronto-based company produces a variety of children’s programming,including Franklin, Babar and Little Bear, and released 17 home videos with various distribution partners throughout North America in 1998. An indicator of Nelvana’s success is that Little Bear, on its own, is responsible for selling upwards of 2 million videos in the U.S. since fall 1997. Witkin hopes that Nelvana’s upcoming summer releases like Franklin Goes to School (distributed by PolyGram Home Video), and a new Babar feature (to be distributed by HBO) will also be successful, and has high hopes for the full-length film Donkey Kong Country-Legend of Crystal Coconut, which will be distributed by Paramount in November 1999 to coincide with the launch of a brand new Nintendo 64 Donkey Kong game. Nelvana is also releasing a video based on the first Franklin book, Franklin in the Dark, with Canada’s Telegenic in August 1999 (available in the U.S. by 2000) and Rolie Polie Olie-Pappy Days, also with Telegenic, on July 13, 1999.
According to Sullivan Entertainment’s VP of home video and acquisitions Jeff Grottick, the U.S. market is always open to timeless children’s and family properties, such as their signature Anne of Green Gables. Grottick is confident that the third installment of the Anne home video series, to be released in 2000, will do well in the States. Sullivan licensed Anne to Disney, and the property has been distributed on video by Buena Vista Home Video since the early 1990s. Grottick estimates that over one million Anne videos have sold in the U.S. to date, and he credits the Disney marketing machine and upscale box art treatment for its success.
However, for most producers, it has become more difficult to get product on shelves in the major U.S. retail chains thanks to the quick-volume sales required by super-stores like Wal-Mart and Target, as well as the steady wave of videos from around the globe vying for those spots.
‘You basically have mass market retail chains in the U.S. that more or less control 60% of the marketplace at retail for sell-through,’ says Louis Fournier, VP of sales and co-productions at Cinar. He says that quality is no longer enough to get a video attention and shelf space in stores.
‘The whole video business is going through a cycle right now where you have to create some sort of event, obviously short of a theatrical release, to create interest in the video release.’
With Cinar’s hot property Arthur set to release another two videos State-side with Sony Wonder in August, two Wimzie’s House titles set to release with Sony in August and The Adventures of Paddington Bear coming from Time-Life Kids this year, it seems unlikely that Cinar will be snubbed.
However, Fournier is most excited about the opportunity to skirt the retail chains altogether. ‘E-commerce is a nice alternative and it is starting to evolve,’ says Fournier. ‘It is interesting because your margins are a little healthier.’