HALLOWEEN VIDEO SEASON FULL OF TRICKY TREATS

Retailers can't seem to agree if it will be trick or treat for video this Halloween.Retailers and industry sources at two recent shows, as well as others contacted by SN, offered a mixed bag of opinions on the potential of Halloween video this year.Increased studio focus on the fourth quarter, narrow seasonal windows, and merchandising crunches complicate video retailing for Halloween. However, industry

Retailers can't seem to agree if it will be trick or treat for video this Halloween.

Retailers and industry sources at two recent shows, as well as others contacted by SN, offered a mixed bag of opinions on the potential of Halloween video this year.

Increased studio focus on the fourth quarter, narrow seasonal windows, and merchandising crunches complicate video retailing for Halloween. However, industry sources said catalog favorites and cross-merchandising potential will carry them through.

Faced with a large number of big, blockbuster releases that begins at the end of August, peaks in November, and doesn't let up until Christmas, retailers said they will merchandise catalog titles as they have in past years for Halloween. Yet now they are more focused on the fourth quarter.

Bob Gettner, video buyer/coordinator, B&R Stores, Lincoln, Neb., said he sees Halloween 2004 playing out much like previous years.

"We usually highlight our sci-fi/horror sections around Halloween. We bring those out a little, and they usually do pretty well. Otherwise, they're pretty slow throughout the year," he said. Many of the chain's stores will put Halloween-themed titles on endcaps to draw the extra attention they might not garner as an in-line section. That treatment is given to most holiday titles, he said.

"The whole fourth quarter itself is going to be good. I don't see a whole lot that will be pushing the Halloween holiday," Gettner said.

Other industry observers also noted the effect the crowded quarter might have on Halloween, in spite of the fact that the holiday has become more of an event. Bob Alexander, president, Alexander & Associates, New York, speculated about the impact of the fourth quarter on the prominence of the holiday.

"I don't know if [Halloween] will have as much of an opportunity to develop an identity and unique promotional flavor as much as it has in years past," he said.

Starting with the release of "The Passion of the Christ" at the end of August, there is a major title release almost every other week through the end of the year, Alexander said. These spread out through September, October and November -- right through the middle of the traditional Halloween season.

Otherwise, a limited assortment of new horror or Halloween-appropriate titles will push retailers back toward catalog titles.

"The only thing we're going to bring in for Halloween is the old classics, and then mix in some children's, some Scooby-Doo videos and that type of release. We don't get into Halloween videos too much because it's such a short selling time. We'll bring in 'Night of the Living Dead' and some of those old classics and leave it at that," said a nonfood executive with an east Texas retailer, who, along with other retailers and wholesalers, was interviewed during the recent General Merchandise Distributors Council's General Merchandise Conference.

That short window poses a challenge for retailers who want to maximize the seasonal potential for the holiday, industry sources agreed.

"Halloween is a tricky time because it's got a very short period of relevancy. It's very hard to get people excited about Halloween until you get into the month of October, and it is over like falling off a cliff come Oct. 31st," said Bill Sondheim, president, GoodTimes Entertainment, New York. Sondheim and other studio executives were interviewed during the recent Video Software Dealers Association's Home Entertainment 2004 convention.

As with many seasonal products, merchandising is key to making the most of that window, industry sources emphasized.

"When tied in with Halloween candy or nonfood merchandise, the DVDs sell earlier in the seasonal window and grab many more customers with impulse appeal. Most retailers are gearing up for their Halloween displays by mid-September, creating a six-week selling window for the holiday," said George Fiscus, director of grocery and drug sales, Delta Entertainment, Los Angeles. Fiscus is a former supermarket nonfood executive.

"This is a perfect example of promotion leading to sales," said Steven Feldstein, senior vice president of marketing communications at Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Century City, Calif. "If you take the opportunity, if you put together displays of various themed merchandise, whether it's the candy and the pumpkins and some selected scary films, that sort of destination within the store works and the products move. Those who have lost market share or business at Halloween are losing it to people who are creating go-to destinations," he said.

"Halloween is a good opportunity," said Larry Ishii, general manager of GM/HBC at Unified Western Grocers, Commerce, Calif. "A lot of people like to use those to tie in some way, shape or form with whatever it is they're doing for Halloween...but there's always some limitation from the standpoint that it's not always seen as the higher-priority items in the selection for Halloween."

Suppliers are more optimistic about the potential for Halloween.

"Without a doubt, supermarkets need to take advantage of [Halloween video] because supermarkets are the primary place for Halloween consumption, whether it be candy or any other product," said Ted Green, chief executive officer of Anchor Bay Entertainment, Troy, Mich.

Some still see enough benefits to the category that they are expanding their offerings. HIT Entertainment, Allen, Texas, distributor of many kids' franchise titles, will release a Halloween episode for each of its brands this year, according to Debbie Ries, senior vice president of sales for the company.