FLYING START

A strong sell-through lineup is taking shape for the first quarter of 1999.As studios recognize this as a prime opportunity to gain floor space at retail, they are bringing out more good titles and announcing their releases earlier. It also is a good time to take advantage of a dearth of offerings from other suppliers. Retailers, meanwhile, find that some fourth-quarter titles continue to sell into

A strong sell-through lineup is taking shape for the first quarter of 1999.

As studios recognize this as a prime opportunity to gain floor space at retail, they are bringing out more good titles and announcing their releases earlier. It also is a good time to take advantage of a dearth of offerings from other suppliers. Retailers, meanwhile, find that some fourth-quarter titles continue to sell into the new year.

"Because of the abundance of holiday product, there are always some hits left over after Christmas," said Kirk Kirkpatrick, vice president of marketing at WaxWorks Video Works, Owensboro, Ky.

"We're expecting a consistent lineup in 1999, with at least one major sell-through title each month," said Bill Bryant, vice president of sales, grocery and drug for Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn. "That will be stronger than 1998 and much stronger than 1997, when there was a drought of major titles."

In the first quarter of 1997, video sales were about 25% of the total for the year, up from just over 20% the year before, said Barbara McNamara, general manager of the Video Flash service of Alexander & Associates, New York. Part of that increase was due to the carryover sales of strong fourth-quarter titles from 1996, she noted. This time around, with titles like "Lost in Space," "Armageddon" and "Dr. Dolittle" due out in the fall of 1998, the same thing could happen.

"The strong titles for the fourth quarter definitely impact the sales of the first quarter. But it also depends on what is on deck for the first quarter of 1999 and what the release schedules of the studios are," said McNamara.

"Sell-through will continue to grow because the studios want it to grow," said Kirkpatrick.

The recent trend toward scheduling major sell-through titles throughout the year means that 1999 will bring a combination of new releases of theatrical films at sell-through pricing, direct-to-video projects, repriced titles from the rental market, new children's titles and catalog promotions.

The first-quarter titles announced thus far look promising, and, if history is a guide, several others with good sales potential are likely to follow. Among the key titles announced are "Mulan," "The Rescuers," the original animated "101 Dalmatians," "Sing and Dance With Barney" and "Our Friend Martin." Good bets to join them for sale in early 1999 are "Antz" and "There's Something About Mary." Additionally, several catalog and children's programs are planned, as well as the usual array of hit movies repriced from the rental market.

With so much sell-through product expected, retailers are optimistic.

"Sell-through has been building for quite a while," said Jamie Molitor, director of video operations at Dierbergs Markets, Chesterfield, Mo. "We're currently bringing in one title per week and having to limit the time on sale. But of course we're not complaining."

"That business is climbing due to good availability," said Greg Rediske, president of Video Management Co., Tacoma, Wash.

More sell-through titles also mean more opportunities for cross promotion.

"We cross promote wherever we can," said Molitor. "It depends on the tie-ins."

"If the promotional partners make sense for supermarkets, it can boost sales of both tapes and related products," said a video specialist. "But coordinating an effective program can be very time-consuming. When dealing with suppliers and with other store departments, there's a lot that can go wrong."

To give retailers extra planning time, studios often extend the window between the pre-order and street dates, but this can introduce further complications.

"We don't like long leads," said Rediske. "We buy one month at a time, and booking two months out creates extra paperwork that we see as unnecessary."

Whatever the reservations of retailers, the studios' commitment to sell-through product points toward another year of healthy growth and strong sales opportunities.

In January, for instance, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Burbank, Calif., will re-release "The Rescuers," which was originally planned for October 1998. "The flood of year-end product contributed to that rescheduling decision," said a distributor.

Also in January will come the animated "Puss in Boots," packaged with a 32-page storybook, from Plaza Entertainment, Los Angeles; "Tekken," an animated tale inspired by the video game, from A.D.V. Films, .... ; "Madeline at the Ballet" and "Madeline in New York," two new titles in a series from Golden Books Family Entertainment, New York; six volumes of "Red Dwarf," the BBC science-fiction series, from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Beverly Hills, Calif.; and two tapes of "The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss," a new children's series from Columbia TriStar Home Video, Culver City, Calif., and Jim Henson Home Entertainment, New York. "Sing and Dance With Barney," a new release from Lyrick Studios, Richardson, Texas, will kick off a year-long celebration of the dinosaur character's 10th anniversary.

Twentieth Century Fox has planned an extensive marketing campaign for its January release of "Our Friend Martin," which combines animation and live action to tell the story of Martin Luther King Jr. The release features the voices of Angela Bassett, Danny Glover, James Earl Jones and Susan Sarandon. Scheduled to coincide with the King holiday, the tape's release involves Kraft and Lawry's as tie-in partners. Those who buy the tape will get mail-in rebates, discount coupons for Kraft products and the opportunity to make donations to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

January will also see the first of four quarterly waves of catalog titles as part of Columbia TriStar Home Video's year-long promotion of the studio's 75th anniversary, which also involves the restoration and theatrical re-release of many titles.

"Great Movies," the first-quarter collection, includes these titles: "All the King's Men," "The Awful Truth," "The Bridge on the River Kwai," "The Caine Mutiny," "From Here to Eternity," "Gandhi," "Groundhog Day," "His Girl Friday," "In Cold Blood," "In the Line of Fire," "It Happened One Night," "The Jolson Story," "Kramer vs. Kramer," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Lost Horizon," "A Man for All Seasons," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "My Best Friend's Wedding," "On the Waterfront," "Philadelphia," "A Raisin in the Sun," "Ship of Fools," "To Sir, With Love," and "You Can't Take It With You."

In February, Buena Vista will release both "Sing Along With Pooh Bear," which will be cross promoted with Hershey's, Grolier's Parenting Newsletter and McDonald's, and the box-office hit "Mulan," with tie-in partners Energizer, Grolier and McDonald's.

" 'Mulan' should be one of the biggest titles next quarter," said Clifford Feiock, video coordinator at Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis.

" 'Mulan' will be huge," agreed Bryant of Ingram.

Also in February, Warner Bros. Home Video, Burbank, Calif., will release its "Big Stars" compilation, the first of four quarterly catalog promotions in its "Century Collection," to be supported by TV and print advertising. To encourage frequent buyers, Warner will offer one free video with the purchase of three others. Cross-promotional partners include Continental Airlines, Davidson Software, Healthy Choice Popcorn, Max Factor and Princess Cruises.

In March, Buena Vista will re-release the animated "101 Dalmatians," which will be cross promoted with Nestle's Alpo and Grolier, along with "Everest," the first IMAX film to regularly make the nation's Top 20 box-office grossers.

The first quarter of 1999 will also see the first of four quarterly promotions in Santa Monica, Calif.-based MGM Home Video's "75th Anniversary Celebration," featuring standout titles from its extensive catalog. MGM will support the promotions with a $10 million TV and print ad campaign and will offer consumers one free video with the purchase of six.

There are several other titles that may be released at sell-through pricing early in 1999, although no announcements have been made. They include "There's Something About Mary" from Twentieth Century Fox; "A Bug's Life" from Buena Vista; "Antz" from DreamWorks SKG, Los Angeles; "The Rugrats Movie" from Paramount Home Video, Hollywood; and Universal City, Calif.-based Universal Studios Home Video's "An American Tail 3" and "Babe: Pig in the City."

Several December 1998 sell-through releases, including "The Mask of Zorro" and "Madeline" from Columbia TriStar, and "The Parent Trap" and "Air Bud 2: Golden Receiver" from Buena Vista, are expected to continue doing solid business into next year.

Repriced titles from the rental market will also provide sales opportunities. Among the likeliest prospects: "Good Will Hunting" from Buena Vista; "Wag the Dog" from New Line, Los Angeles; and "U.S. Marshals" and "Sphere" from Warner.

"Many supermarkets are getting into the $9.98 and $14.98 repriced titles," said Bryant of Ingram, "but some are getting into the $19.98 product as well. The attraction is that these are impulse items with higher margins."

"We will be bringing in the repriced 'Wedding Singer' in December," said Molitor of Dierbergs. "There's a strong interest in it."

Prebook Notebook

Key rental and sell-through video titles with order dates in DECEMBER

Title

Studio Marketing opportunities

How Stella Got Her Groove Back Rental $40Jan. 5Dec. 2Fox EZ Lease Program; national TV ads Fox

75th Anniversary CollectionVariousNAJan. 5Dec. 3$3-off movie ticket mail-in offer Columbia(25 titles)

Judgment Day$29.95Tele-Dec. 22Dec. 3National ads on WWF TV broadcasts

Titan/WWFvision

Out of SightRental$40Jan. 5Dec. 7National radio ads; free-goods program

Universal

Mulan$26.99$129Feb. 2Dec. 15$10 Energizer savings; free Grolier Book; Buena VistaMcDonald's promotion Sing & Dance With Barney$14.95DTV**Jan. 12Dec. 15Barney's 10th anniversary; Lyricaudio CD/cassette Our Friend, Martin$12.98DTV**Jan. 12Dec. 16$3 Kraft rebate, $2 Lawry's rebate, FoxBlack History Month The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss$12.95Tele-Jan. 19Dec. 17New-to-video Jim Henson series ColumbiavisionMAP The Truman ShowRental$125Jan. 12Dec. 21National TV ads; Jim Carrey catalog Paramount

Red Dwarf$19.98Tele-Jan. 19Dec. 28BBC science fiction series; 6 tapes

Fox/BBCvision

* Where applicable, order date is for prepacks. ** DTV = Direct to video Source: SN selections based on information provided by Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn., and other industry sources.