ART HOUSE FILMS GAINING RENTAL MOMENTUM

Academy Award hoopla and big summer marketing campaigns are causing retailers to increase their rental buys of so-called "art house" movies. These are movies that receive critical acclaim, but have a limited market either because of subtitles, subject matter or lack of a major theatrical marketing campaign. Three current examples are "Il Postino/The Postman," "Mighty Aphrodite" and "Les Miserables."

Academy Award hoopla and big summer marketing campaigns are causing retailers to increase their rental buys of so-called "art house" movies. These are movies that receive critical acclaim, but have a limited market either because of subtitles, subject matter or lack of a major theatrical marketing campaign. Three current examples are "Il Postino/The Postman," "Mighty Aphrodite" and "Les Miserables." Availability of many of these titles from shared transaction fee distributors also is having a significant impact on retailers' buying decisions. "Il Postino," an Italian film, received nominations for best picture and best actor, among other categories. Mira Sorvino won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite." Meanwhile, a number of these titles are being boosted by the multimillion dollar, post-street date promotions "Hollywood H.I.T.S." ("Hot In The Summer") from Buena Vista Home Video, Burbank, Calif., and the "Power Players 2" marketing campaign run jointly by Warner Home Video, Burbank, Calif., and MGM/UA Home Entertainment, Santa Monica, Calif. In the past, such titles haven't done very well for Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis, said Cliff Feiock, video coordinator. "We are just starting to educate our customers about those titles and they may be reaching a new market. Their rental activity seems to be improving," he said. The level of marketing support "almost forces us to try some titles that we might not have ordinarily brought in. Ultimately, it should be a positive thing for everyone involved," he said. "I probably would not have brought in 'Il Postino' if not for the Academy Award nomination and publicity," said a video executive at a Midwestern chain. The lack of widespread theatrical distribution can be positive when it comes to renting these titles, he noted. In some rural areas, "the only way you are going to get to see them is to rent them," he said. "The Academy Awards exposure certainly did create more interest in those titles at the consumer level," said Rick Ang, a buyer at Video Mart in Sacramento, Calif., which racks video departments in 17 Bel Air supermarkets in the Sacramento area. "It also caused me to take another look at my buys. Normally on 'Mighty Aphrodite,' I might have gone a little light, but it's been getting quite a bit of acceptance and quite a bit of attention." "Anytime a film gets exposure like that, it tends to do better across the board, including the supermarkets," said Bill Bryant, assistant vice president of major accounts and special markets at Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn. There are more of these titles competing for shelf space, noted Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research, Carmel Valley, Calif. "There is just a flood of those kind of titles. You have to be really careful about what you pick up," he said. But consumer interest in such movies is increasing, he said. "People have had their VCRs for a long time and are more open than they have been in the past to trying out titles other than the major hits," Adams said. "If the quality of a title is good enough, people are prepared to overlook the fact that it is subtitled," said Des Walsh, vice president and general manager at Supercomm, Dallas. "Retailers are becoming more aware of the potential of movies in this category." Rental demand for art house titles is starting to pick up for Boogaart Retail Division of Fleming Cos., Concordia, Kan., said Matt Dillon, video director. A year ago, Boogaart probably would not have brought in any of these titles, but now the retailer will carry at least the bigger titles like "Il Postino" and "Mighty Aphrodite," he said. The Academy Awards attention and added promotional support "lends some credibility" to these titles and "certainly gives them momentum," said a video executive at a Southwestern chain. But buying decisions still have to be made on a title-by-title and store-by-store basis, he said. For example, the English language "Mighty Aphrodite" will do better than subtitled films and because of Mira Sorvino's Academy Awards acceptance speech, he said. "That got the word-of-mouth buzz going very quickly." "We have always carried a small selection of those titles," said Jamie Molitor, director of video operations at Dierbergs Markets, Chesterfield, Mo. But now the retailer is fine-tuning its copy depth on those movies. "Where we might have carried one in the past, now we might carry three," she said. Buying decisions on the art house titles are "real specific to certain stores. Some just seem to do better than others," she said. Some retailers are concerned with a recent trend in the marketing of art house movies. In an effort to reach a wider audience, studios are attempting to position these titles as mainstream fare. "It's almost deceptive, but they will rent," said the video executive at the Midwestern chain. For example, the box art positioned a recent title as a comedy, but it was more of a tragedy. "When you watch it, you are in tears," he said. Misleading box art only irritates customers, said Randy Weddington, video specialist at Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. Citing the example of a film about gays that was portrayed like a wild campus comedy, he said, "They are targeting the wrong audience."