DTV players rely on precision timing and stand-out promos to break through the clutter

If the chant of blue chip real estate agents is 'location, location, location,' then 'timing, timing, timing' is the mantra invoked by studios vying for a successful kid DTV release. The reliance on a strong, recognizable franchise and a focus on...
July 1, 2000

If the chant of blue chip real estate agents is ‘location, location, location,’ then ‘timing, timing, timing’ is the mantra invoked by studios vying for a successful kid DTV release. The reliance on a strong, recognizable franchise and a focus on seasonal releases is getting a lot of mileage in most quarters. Overcrowded consumer home libraries are also heightening competition, forcing more creative promotional strategies and the preponderance of tie-ins and QSRs associated with most major kid DTV releases. Of course, ‘location,’ the ongoing fight for shelf space, is always a consideration.

‘There’s a lot of clutter out there,’ says Ken Graffeo, senior VP of Universal Studios Home Video marketing. ‘Successful DTVs are brand extensions of successful franchises.’ That wisdom has Universal sticking to the tried and true with its bevy of Halloween DTVs and other titles streeting this year, including Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolf Man, Beethoven’s 3rd, Dragonheart: A New Beginning and An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster. ‘One of the things we look for in the franchises we have is how we can build on them,’ Graffeo says. An example is the strategy behind throwing the Chipmunks and the Wolfman together. ‘Alvin is such a strong franchise, by combining it with classic monsters, it’s a great way to introduce kids to that.’

Other considerations Graffeo says Universal looks for in DTV titles are production values, since consumers are becoming more discriminating as their own video libraries outgrow den space. ‘We look at the market conditions, current trends on sell-through-you’re fighting for shelf space,’ Graffeo says.

Universal’s Haunted House of Fun video series streets on August 29 and includes three 2-D animated DTV features, all geared to the four to 10 set. The videos prebook in early August, each with a US$14.98 SRP. In addition to DTV pick-ups Monster Mash and Archie and the Riverdale Vampires (see ‘Studios playing it safe,’ page 52), the series includes Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman (78 minutes), about Alvin’s concern that a recently arrived neighbor is actually a werewolf. When Alvin’s brother Theodore starts eating socks and exhibiting other weird and wolf-like behavior, Alvin and Simon set about to save Theo from the dark side.

Non spook-related Universal DTVs coming down the pipe include live-action feature Beethoven’s 3rd, prebooking this month and streeting at the end of the month. The 99-minute Ludwig Productions flick stars Judge Reinhold and the rest of the Newton family on an RV road trip with the famous St. Bernard. Dragonheart: A New Beginning, another live-action feature, streets August 8, and Amblin Entertainment’s fourth animated American Tail flick, An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster, streets at the end of the month. All titles have an SRP of US$14.98 (DVDs will be available for Beethoven and Dragonheart with a US$24.98 SRP).

Promos planned for Universal’s lineup include’s ‘Search for the Cutest Pet’ tie-in for Beethoven running through mid-August, offering a grand prize of a walk-on role in Beethoven’s 4th and a trip to Hollywood. The film is also being trailered on four million Galaxy Quest videos. A Del Monte Fruit Cups promo for American Tail and other videos in Universal’s back-to-school catalog includes a US$2 video rebate offer and an FSI on August 6. Finally, Sun-Maid Raisins is tying in to the Alvin title with a U.S. national instant-win game and offer on five million bags of raisins starting October 15.

When it comes to deciding what gets the DTV treatment at Artisan Family Home Entertainment, ‘the number one rule is the project needs a compelling marketing hook,’ says Glenn Ross, president of Family Home Entertainment and executive VP of Artisan Home Entertainment. ‘As a film that moves to video without the advantage of a broadcast, it should be based on a well-known franchise, have a really well known cast, or be so compelling we could build a campaign around it.’

In Tangerine Bear’s case, it was a combination of the last two. The movie carries significant voice talent in the form of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Trisha Yearwood and David Hyde Pierce. Artisan prebooks Tangerine Bear on September 26, streeting in November for an SRP of US$14.98 for both the VHS and DVD versions. Budgeted at over US$2 million, the 48-minute 2-D feature is based on the book by Betty and Michael Paraskevas. The story centers around an orange bear who suffers the misfortune of having his smile sewn on upside down. Artisan also hooked up with the Starlight Children’s Foundation for a cross-promotion, and Starlight will receive a portion of sales revenue. Tangerine Bear is about overcoming obstacles and viewing difficult situations as opportunities, a theme which was a natural fit with The Starlight Children’s Fund, Ross says.

On the preschool DTV front, things are getting a little tougher thanks to the growth of preschool TV channels that extend the toddlers’ TV viewing options.

Lyrick Studios is banking on the continued popularity of the Barney franchise and a departure from the TV series to sell units of Come on Over to Barney’s House. ‘We found that Moms want to be entertained too,’ says Sue Beddingfield, Lyrick’s group VP of marketing, ‘so it has a lot of special effects.’ With Barney DTVs in general, Beddingfield says the company tries to focus more on the entertainment values than the educational components found in the TV show. ‘We like to deliver a little more special effects and entertainment value,’ she says. The setting is different from the TV version, since it marks the first time Barney is seen in his own digs. Beddingfield thinks that alone will be a sales draw. ‘It’s not what you watch every day on Barney and Friends-that’s where we found our niche, in offering people an enhancement to what’s on TV.’

Most of Lyrick’s product is DTV, with between three and five releases a year, usually in January, pre-Easter, early summer and fall. ‘January is a great time for video because people may have extra Christmas cash, or somebody gets a new DVD player for Christmas,’ Beddingfield says. She says the studio sometimes does seasonal releases, with a Christmas title planned for this year and a Valentine’s Day themed title slated for January.

Lyrick responds to other players and even big retailers when it plans the timing of a release. The studio also looks at changing street dates in response to other market factors to ensure maximum unit sales. ‘If a big studio announces it will release an American Beauty or a Sixth Sense, we find we have success if we street at the same time because there is an interest in video with retailers,’ Beddingfield says. The idea is that retailers will order so many units of a big release, they may be in an ordering frame of mind and pick up other titles as well. With consumers, Beddingfield says there may be a guilt element at play. ‘If Mom and Dad are picking up a video for themselves, maybe they’ll pick up one for the child too.’

On the other hand, if a big-name kids release is announced, Lyrick will back away from the same street date and change gears accordingly. The studio also takes mass retailers’ circulars into consideration when planning street dates. Lyrick planned Barney’s House release to coincide with the fall, one of the biggest selling seasons.

The 50-minute live-actioner geared to ages two to eight prebooks July 18 and streets on August 15 for US$14.95 (US$24.95 for the DVD). Plans for Barney’s House include a promo with a general interest women’s magazine and a cross-promo with Gerber offering on-pack Gerber Graduates products. In-store displays, direct mail and an FSI on August 20 will support, and a sweepstakes with over 1,000 prizes will offer the chance to win a dream play room. A Barney’s House book will coincide with the video release, as well as a plush Barney with a tool box and a cassette featuring songs from the video. A charitable overlay with Habitat for Humanity is also possible.

Paramount Home Entertainment’s upcoming DTV titles are all animated and set for a fall release. They include Blue’s Big Musical Movie, along with pick-ups Faeries and It’s the Pied Piper Charlie Brown (see ‘Studios playing it safe,’ page 52). Paramount Home Entertainment’s Martin Blythe says the studio doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that DTVs have to be franchise-based, although that is certainly the case with both the Blue’s and Charlie Brown titles. ‘The perceived wisdom of the last few years is that DTVs will only succeed in franchised properties. But there are franchises that don’t succeed. I think it’s important to have a breadth of releases.’ Blythe says. Paramount releases DTVs year round, but Blythe says back-to-school and fall are the best times.

The 78-minute Blue’s Big Musical takes place on the day of a big backyard musical show. When Tickety Tock loses her voice, Blue has to scramble to find new talent. The video includes six new songs and introduces a new character named Periwinkle the cat. It prebooks August 29 for VHS and August 22 for DVD, streeting October 3 with an SRP of US$19.95 (US$24.99 for DVD). Blues will trailer on Rugrats Discover America and other Nick videos, and a Nickelodeon on-air sweepstakes at the end of September will support. A cross-promo is also planned with Kid Rhino’s September 19 release of Blue’s Big Musical Movie CD Soundtrack. There’s a seven-week-long kids meal program (QSR name not divulged pending deal-signing), and a cross-promo is planned with Johnson & Johnson featuring a water-activated noisy notebook on 250,000 units of shampoo and bubble bath. Finally, Farley’s Fruit Snacks will promote on-product in September and October, and specially marked videos and DVDs will contain added value savings packs from participating Blues Clues licensees and promo partners.

Warner Home Video releases five to six DTVs a year, and is releasing three major titles in time for Halloween: Tweety’s High-Flying Adventure, Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (see KidScreen April 2000, page 128 and May 2000, page 31). The studio is also releasing another Mary Kate and Ashley video, with the tentative street date of November 14, under the working title Our Lips are Sealed. (Ironically, no further info was available at press time).

As far as timing goes, Mark Horak, senior VP of marketing at Warner Home Video, says it depends on when the studio believes a franchise will perform well in the calendar. So Scooby, he says, fit naturally with Halloween, given the content. ‘Tweety is more back-to-school because there are a lot of Moms with kids in the stores.’

Warner is pumping a lot of money into the three DTVs, and is treating them almost as theatrical releases in terms of dollars spent on the campaigns. Promos for the Scooby title include a free on-pack trick-or-treat bag and a ‘buy three, get one free’ offer running August 22 through December 15.

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