Marketers harness DVD bells and whistles

With the digital video disk (DVD) industry growing in leaps and bounds, studios are making a more concentrated effort to market their DVDs to consumers, including a push to release enhanced DVDs day-and-date with VHS releases....
October 1, 1999

With the digital video disk (DVD) industry growing in leaps and bounds, studios are making a more concentrated effort to market their DVDs to consumers, including a push to release enhanced DVDs day-and-date with VHS releases.

Those in the industry estimate that the number of homes with DVD players will hit at least four million by the end of 1999, with year-to-date sales of DVDs at 8.72 million as of mid-August. Roughly 4,000 DVD titles have been released as of the end of September, according to DVD Insider, an on-line magazine dedicated to the DVD industry.

To keep up with the rising tide, major studios are scrambling to release their titles in the DVD format with the most value-added enhancements, from director bios to sing-along features to interactive games.

Tactics to get consumers forking out an extra US$10 (on average) for DVD rather than VHS vary along with opinions on which features should be added and whether to focus on timing, quality or quantity when it comes to issuing DVDs.

Steve Gusstoffsan, head of DVD marketing for DreamWorks, says to get people to buy DVDs as opposed to VHS titles, you must create something fun with features kids want. For example, The Prince of Egypt DVD, released on September 14, has a music video featuring the film’s theme song in 35 different languages.

He says DreamWorks tries to release DVDs that include educational value presented in an entertaining way. Some studios tend to release DVD titles as soon as they can, Gusstoffsan says, but DreamWorks prefers to take the time to produce a quality DVD. ‘Our philosophy here is we tend to add a lot of value to DVDs,’ he says.

The Prince of Egypt currently sells for US$34.99, but Gusstoffsan says if more and more people buy the hardware, prices will likely drop. DreamWorks doesn’t have plans for more kids DVD titles at the moment.

Other studios, such as Texas-based Lyrick, are using DVDs and DVD-ROMs as a way to get interactive education to the consumer.

‘We felt because the Barney programming is so educational and entertaining, there were a number of touch points we could really appeal to the consumer with,’ says Sue Beddingfield, VP of marketing. She adds that most of the DVDs on the market are just direct copies of kids VHS releases.

Barney’s Night Before Christmas, the newest Barney DVD feature enhanced with DVD-ROM capabilities, was launched September 28 and contains sing-alongs, read-along books and eight different games. A Barney in Outer Space DVD will follow in spring 2000.

Although Beddingfield says releasing DVDs after the original VHS title has come out does give a company a chance to repromote a video, she believes it’s much more efficient to release DVDs day-and-date with their VHS counterparts so they can be advertised at the same time.

For a studio, Beddingfield says producing a DVD is a ‘relatively low-risk proposition’ because it’s fairly inexpensive. ‘It’s very little incremental dollars because we have done so much of the development in-house,’ she says.

Although the studio initially wavered on price points between US$19.99 and US$24.99 for Christmas, Beddingfield says Lyrick decided to go with the higher price because of the added features.

Michael Stradford, executive director of DVD marketing for Columbia TriStar, agrees with Beddingfield that in order for a kids DVD to be a success, thought has to be put into which features would best suit it. ‘What we try to do is really tailor any added value to that particular age group,’ he says.

Coming DVD titles from Columbia TriStar include Elmo in Grouchland, out on December 21, The Nuttiest Nutcracker, out October 19, and Muppets in Space, out October 26. Nutcracker, a completely CG feature, will include games and a sing-along, Muppets will feature video commentary with the director and a gag reel with Muppet bloopers and features for Elmo are still undecided. As far as cross-promotional possibilities, so far only cross-trailering pointing kids to other DVD releases is included.

Stradford concludes that day-and-date releases are imperative, saying that ‘it’s an industry-wide mandate.’ In his opinion, DVDs have a marketing advantage over video titles because they force both the child and parent to interact rather than watch passively.

Warner Home Video also has plans for new DVD releases, including A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Horton Hears a Who, Thumbelina, and The Wizard of Oz (all hitting the streets this fall for US$19.95 each) to complement last summer’s release of The King and I.

Available for US$24.98, King included some different value-added features, such as a behind-the-scenes look at the animation process, a sing-along, a segment on the making of the music and a documentary featurette, says its musical director Mark Berger. Marketing support for the DVD included a national advertising campaign, a sweepstakes contest and other promotions.

While most studios have embraced the new technology quickly, Disney has been watching the kids’ DVD market rather warily.

In fact, until Disney announced late August that it would start releasing classics on DVD, the animation goliath was regarded as serious holdout.

‘We’ve been criti-

cized for that,’ says

Buena Vista Home

Video’s Martin Blythe, adding that the studio was slow to jump in because execs felt the DVD hardware was spreading too slowly.

He points out that most of the Buena Vista’s family titles released thus far on DVD have underperformed. One exception was A Bug’s Life, the thirteenth-highest-selling DVD of all time, according to VideoScan figures.

The August announcement seemed to indicate a change of heart at Disney, with chairman Richard Cook of The Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group enthusing that ‘DVDs are an exciting new way to present our filmed entertainment in a format that is practical, versatile and economical.’

Pinocchio will be the first title out on the new format, hitting the streets on October 26, with 101 Dalmatians, Hercules, Mulan, Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan, Simba’s Pride, The Jungle Book and The Little Mermaid following at regular intervals over the next few months. All will be available only for a strict 60-day time period, after which they will be placed on moratorium for up to 10 years, as is Disney’s wont.

According to Blythe, Buena Vista’s strategy for the future is to come out with one DVD title a month, focusing on releasing day-and-date with VHS rather than the bells and whistles that other studios are adding to children’s DVDs. So far, no DVD-ROMs have been produced.

Kid DVD Top Sellers

Theatrical DVD

Title Distributor

1 A Bug’s Life Buena Vista Home Entertainment

2 Mighty Joe Young Buena Vista Home Entertainment

3 Ever After: A Cinderella Story 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

4 Antz DreamWorks SKG

5 The Rugrats Movie Paramount Home Video

Non-Theatrical DVD

Title Distributor

1 Pokémon: I Choose You Pikachu Pioneer Entertainment

2 Pokémon: Mystery of Mount Moon Pioneer Entertainment

3 Disney’s Enchanted Christmas Buena Vista Home Entertainment

4 Pokémon:

The Sisters of Cerulean City Pioneer Entertainment

5 How the Grinch Stole Christmas Warner Home Video

(source: VideoScan; ranked by year-to-date sales as of August, 1999)

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