Stakes rising for studios as they compete for consumers’ entertainment dollar

The kidvid sell-through business is getting to be an awfully crowded field, but that hasn't deterred more players from getting into the game....
July 1, 1998

The kidvid sell-through business is getting to be an awfully crowded field, but that hasn’t deterred more players from getting into the game.

Add the mounting number of family-based home video products to the other entertainment choices that kids have, including new family-oriented cable channels, video games, computers, on-line activities and heck, even those somewhat archaic practices of reading and playing outside, and you’ve got a lot of options.

Home video distributors are seeking innovative ways to break through the clutter and maximize the exposure of their products in ways that will encourage retailers to stock them and consumers to purchase them.

‘It’s not just competition within the video industry, but for the entire entertainment dollar,’ says Charlie Katz, senior vice president of marketing at Universal Studios Home Video. ‘We need to convince children and families that the home video experience is a good value for them to want to own and build as part of their overall library.’

Children’s home video marketing executives commonly cited the overabundance of product in the marketplace as the most pressing issue in the sell-through business in children’s home video. Well-established kidvid giants like Disney, Universal and Warner are now facing new competition from studios like Columbia TriStar, MGM and PolyGram, which are aggressively getting into the kids business. Studios are trying to distinguish themselves by emphasizing existing franchises, developing marketing campaigns specifically tailored to individual retailers and finding new ways to promote their products to consumers.

There’s much at stake, because most films reach their widest audiences on video, making home video the largest piece of the overall revenue pie, according to Buena Vista Home Video director of publicity Martin Blythe.

As competition for shelf space heats up, the home video business is evolving into the same high-stakes poker game that studios play when releasing new movies-if a video doesn’t make an impact in the first week or so, retailers are quick to give it the hook and replace it with the next wave of wanna-be hits.

‘I think this is the year that retailers are saying, `Enough is enough,” says Dan Capone, director of marketing of family entertainment at Warner Home Video. ‘If a video isn’t from a strong franchise, a popular movie, or something that’s hot with kids, it’s not going to work on video, . . . there’s no doubt about it.’

‘If you can’t get it into the marketplace, the consumer can’t buy it,’ says Paul Culberg, executive vice president of domestic home video at Columbia TriStar. ‘With the exception of event titles, the children’s business is an impulse business, so it has to be on the shelf.’

With so few slots available in stores, retailers rely on stocking popular lines, such as Paramount’s Rugrats and Blue’s Clues, Universal’s The Land Before Time and An American Tail, Warner’s Batman and just about anything with the Disney name, over unknown quantities. While that hasn’t prevented studios from trying to launch new franchises, it has focused them on building upon existing ones, often by direct-to-video extensions. Upcoming examples include Warner’s live-action sequel to Dennis the Menace, and new Disney direct-to-video follow-ups to Pocahontas and The Lion King, among others.

‘Retailers have been telling us, `Give us product, give us margins, give us recognizable brand names and we’ll sell product,” says Culberg.

Buena Vista pioneered the concept of direct-to-video features in 1994 with the Aladdin sequel The Return of Jafar, says Blythe. It now calls these movies Disney Video Premieres. ‘Direct-to-video represents a real growth area,’ he says. ‘In the last few years, video has had more flexibility than theatrical in terms of what season we can release our titles.’

Universal is relaunching its An American Tail franchise this summer as the foundation for creating two new direct-to-video sequels, the first of which, An American Tail 3: The Treasure of Manhattan Island, will be available in December. An American Tail 3 represents one of the titles Universal will market under a new umbrella banner called Family Features, designed to promote current and library family titles. Videos will have unique packaging that supports the initiative. Universal was one of the first studios to recognize the strength of direct-to-video sequels, as borne out by the success of its The Land Before Time franchise. The sixth The Land Before Time title will be coming out this fall.

Studios have to be careful about what they release because there’s no shelf space for poor performers. Paramount Home Video studies the other elements surrounding the property that are in place (such as availability of licensed products in other departments of the store) that would bolster the chances for the video to be successful at retail.’It’s not enough today to go into the mass merchants when all you have is the video,’ says Michael Arkin, senior vice president of marketing at Paramount Home Video. ‘You want there to be a groundswell of support behind the property. It’s not that we’re not getting behind other properties that aren’t established franchises, but we are giving them time to mature before we get behind them in a big way.’

Warner Home Video examines everything from a property’s Q scores to its licensing program to its promotional partners (or lack thereof) before determining the video viability of a title. In return, it makes sure the trade has a full understanding of how Warner plans to drive the products through retail, from promotions and advertising to how the products hit key demographics.

Studios are supplementing and in some cases, supplanting, general national marketing retail campaigns with individual targeted marketing plans to service individual stores or store categories, such as discount retailers and grocery stores. ‘We’re trying to be more trade specific,’ says Ken Graffeo, senior vice president of marketing for PolyGram Video. ‘We’ve taken a look at our channels of distribution and have tailored specific marketing programs to create events at the different retail destinations.’

For its upcoming video release Barney’s Great Adventure: The Movie, PolyGram has designed several marketing scenarios, such as a plush gift with purchase, cross-promotional rebates, and tie-ins with promotional partners and Barney licensees. ‘Those kind of things create excitement on the day of the launch, as opposed to the product just coming from us,’ he says. ‘Working with retailers to customize to their needs is time-consuming, but in the long run, [it] pays off because you address the specific needs that they have.’

From a consumer standpoint, promotion has gone beyond traditional advertising avenues such as TV and print, and past added-value offers like rebates and cross-promotional incentives. One of the successful ways that Warner has reached kids has been through in-school educational outreach programs and similar means that can promote the video while offering a benefit to schools.

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