Studios playing it safe in the pick-up game

As the movers and shakers in the home video market descend on Vegas for the VSDA Convention, the keyword in 2000 seems to be familiarity. In short, kidvids not associated with an already established brand-whether book, toy or television series-are becoming...
July 1, 2000

As the movers and shakers in the home video market descend on Vegas for the VSDA Convention, the keyword in 2000 seems to be familiarity. In short, kidvids not associated with an already established brand-whether book, toy or television series-are becoming a much harder sell in the pick-up market, and the major distributors are being much more careful about which stand-alone projects they acquire.

‘What we see is a formidable appetite and growing demand for quality children’s and family videos, which has prompted Universal to aggressively develop and acquire new direct-to-video product and expand our popular kids franchise titles with various promotional partners,’ says Ken Graffeo, senior VP of Universal Studios Home Video marketing.

That expansion of franchise product, Graffeo says, is reflected in USHV’s newly acquired Monster Mash and Archie and the Riverdale Vampires for U.S. distribution. ‘We are providing fresh new product with characters tied to familiar franchises that consumers like and recognize.’

The animated Monster Mash, a US$2-million co-production between RAI and Disney’s DIC Entertainment is inspired by the famous pop song by Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett and aimed at the three to 11 group. In the 78-minute vid, Frank, Wolf and Drac have fallen on hard times and are reduced to making mall appearances, so they try to prove they haven’t lost their scare factor by frightening a human family. According to Robby London, DIC’s executive VP of creative affairs, RAI will be handling distribution in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, with Universal picking up the remaining territories.

The 65-minute Archie’s Weird Mysteries: Archie and The Riverdale Vampires also comes from DIC, whose co-pro and animation partners include France-based Les Studios Tex, Metropole Television, Arles Animation and Les Studios de Saint-Ouen. This title seeks a broader three- to 15-year-old audience and stars venerable comic and cartoon character Archie Andrews as an ace reporter for the Riverdale High School student paper. Both Monster Mash and Archie and the Riverdale Vampires street August 29 with an SRP of US$14.98 each, as part of the Haunted House of Fun series. Promos include an exclusive on-pack Archie’s Weird Mysteries comic.

Warner Home Video’s senior VP of marketing Mark Horak acknowledges that ‘you have to have properties based on well-known brands to get the placement at the retail level. It’s a function of the expectation that what’s in the store will have to perform against ever-increasing competition.’

However, even though franchises are vital to their overall kid home video health, Horak points out: ‘Warner Home Video is very proud we distribute product based on a variety of producing entities. We look at the market and the properties available more opportunistically.’ Highlighting that ability to strategically venture away from franchises are the two pick-ups Family Tree and Scarecrow.

Family Tree, a 90-minute live action film from Curb Entertainment starring Andy Lawrence, Naomi Judd, Robert Forster, Matt Lawrence and Cliff Robertson, tells the story of a nine year-old boy who learns his father is planning to build a new factory that would necessitate cutting down the town’s legendary landmark, Old Oak. Instead of standing idly by, young Mitch rallies friends and neighbors to help him save the special tree. Intended for ages six and up, Family Tree hits the street August 15 with an SRP of US$19.96.

Nest Entertainment’s 90-minute Scarecrow, animated by Rich Animation Studios in Burbank, aims for a younger four- to nine-year-old audience and tells the story of a lonely scarecrow who falls in love with a beautiful orphan girl named Polly and begins to dream of being human. The home video’s scheduled street date is August 22.

Paramount Home Entertainment pick-ups focus primarily on proven brands, such as United Media’s, It’s the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown, produced by Lee Mendelson Film Productions. This DTV title stars Snoopy in a retelling of the classic fairy-tale featuring all the Peanuts regulars and the DVD includes a retrospective interview with the late Charles Schulz. Targeted at kids ages four to seven, the release streets September 12 with a US$12 suggested retail price.

Still, Paramount is poised to venture into riskier home video waters with the much-anticipated kidvid pick-up, Faeries, from HIT Entertainment and Wales-based Cartwyn Cymru Productions. In the video, two children holidaying on a farm are transported to Fairyland and given three tasks to complete before they can return to their own world. Kate Winslet, Jane Horrocks, Jeremy Irons and Dougray Scott lend their voices.

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