REEL KID STUFF

Paralleling the growth of animated videos, live-action children's and family-oriented movies are enjoying a renaissance that can only be good news for supermarkets.With their focus on creating a family-friendly environment, supermarket video executives welcome titles that appeal to adults as well as children. Offered at low sell-through pricing, these movies also provide rental opportunities while

Paralleling the growth of animated videos, live-action children's and family-oriented movies are enjoying a renaissance that can only be good news for supermarkets.

With their focus on creating a family-friendly environment, supermarket video executives welcome titles that appeal to adults as well as children. Offered at low sell-through pricing, these movies also provide rental opportunities while contributing to the growth of ongoing video sales programs.

"Overall, the children's category is stronger now than it has ever been," said Clifford Feiock, video coordinator at Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis. "It makes for a very exciting time for the video business."

All studios are putting some kind of emphasis on family and children's programming. Several have created special labels to identify this product.

Examples of this trend are Disney's remakes of some of its older titles as live action theatrical releases, like "101 Dalmatians" and "That Darn Cat," and its direct-to-video sequels, like "Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves." These are distributed by Buena Vista Home Video, Burbank, Calif.

There is increasing use of literary properties like the "Goosebumps" nontheatrical line from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Beverly Hills, Calif., and "Matilda" from Columbia TriStar Home Video, Culver City, Calif. Meanwhile, there also are more original family movies like "Harriet the Spy" from Paramount Home Video, Hollywood, and "Alaska" and "Fly Away Home," both from Columbia TriStar.

"This is a dramatically underserved market that Hollywood is finally waking up to," said Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research, Carmel Valley, Calif. Throughout its history to date, the home-video market has helped create demand for many genres, such as horror, sexual obsession and animated, noted Adams. "But the one genre it didn't drive until the last couple of years was new production of family fare," he said.

"We are seeing the business wake up to an opportunity it was kind of ignoring," said Adams. "I hope they continue to bring out the quantities of family titles they are releasing right now and maybe even increase that," said Denise Darnell, video supervisor for Southeast Foods, Monroe, La. "The family category has really been lacking for a while," she said. "We see a trend toward more children's and family live-action videos being released direct to sell-through," said Shirley Decker, product management coordinator at Goff Food Stores, Haslett, Mich. Many of these would have been released at rental pricing a few years ago.

"Now the studios see what is going on and are making them available for sell-through. We expect '101 Dalmatians' to be phenomenal. The 'Honey, I Shrunk' series has done really well in both rental and sell-through, and that should continue," said Decker. Often, customers will pass on a movie, saying, "I can't let my children watch that," noted Darnell. "Now these live-action family and children-oriented videos are giving them some alternatives that they can appreciate," she said.

Several retailers, including Darnell, singled out "Fly Away Home" as having strong sleeper potential on video. The title grossed about $25 million at the box office and releases tomorrow at sell-through pricing.

"As more people see it, there is going to be a word-of-mouth situation, because it is such a good movie," said Darnell. Many will start out renting the title and then buy it, she noted. "We think 'Fly Away Home' in particular will do real well for us," said Rick Ang, buyer for Video Mart, Sacramento, Calif., which racks video departments in 17 Bel Air supermarkets in the Sacramento area. "It's a lot better than some of the other features that are coming out in the first quarter," he said.

"The most encouraging thing is that the studios are realizing that a movie doesn't have to be a box office bonanza to go sell-through," said Randy Weddington, video specialist at Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. " 'Fly Away Home' is a good family movie. I think it will hold the kids' attention and the adults will enjoy it too, which is getting to be pretty important," he said.

"A good, strong live-action video can have double appeal, to both children and adults," said Gary Schloss, vice president of general merchandise for Carr Gottstein Foods, Anchorage, Alaska. Examples he cited were "Fly Away Home," "Space Jam" and "Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves."

"It is important for families to sit down and watch a movie together that everyone can enjoy," said Darnell. "Some parents don't enjoy watching an animated feature, but the whole family can watch a 'Fly Away Home' or 'Matilda,' " she said.

These titles "don't talk down to kids so much that adults can't stand to watch them. That is a formula that is working," Adams said. "Matilda," Danny DeVito's film of the Roald Dahl book, "was a pretty grown-up movie when you think about it, but the kids loved it too," he said.

But some said "Matilda" did not live up to expectations. "We brought in 'Matilda' and it did not do very well for sale, but it performed pretty well for rental," said Trish Smilie, customer service/video manager at Steele's Markets, Fort Collins, Colo.

"A 'Matilda' is a good movie, but it is not going to appeal to everybody, and it won't rent to everybody," said Bob Glisch, vice president of operations for Mega Mart, Oak Creek, Wis. "If you don't appeal to the entire cross section of younger and older people, you are going to limit your exposure and your rentals," he said.

While live-action movies do well, they don't sell as well as the animated products, said Feiock of Nash Finch. "This is a market that we need to develop more in the future. For whatever reason, 'Matilda' was kind of a letdown for us. It didn't do nearly as well as I thought it would," he said.

"But even though the results aren't as good as I would like, it is still a very important part of our business. It's an area that we can certainly improve on and I see that as a very positive development," said Feiock.

Many retailers noted that the rental market has benefited from these titles released to sell-through at price points that generally end up under $20 at retail. "When you can buy four or five copies for the same cost as one copy at rental pricing, it definitely allows us to bring them in for rental in greater depth," said Darnell.

"Keep 'em coming," said Ang of Movie Mart. "They really do well for us. In a supermarket, we are there for convenience and when we can bring in a large number of titles that families are looking for, that really works out well for us," he said.

Ang is expecting "101 Dalmatians" to post "incredible" numbers. "I look for that to be a summer-long rental title, while doing as well or better as 'Bambi' for sell-through," he said. Some children's sell-through titles don't rent as well, because people are buying them, said Monte Deere, president of Video III, Orem, Utah, which racks about 100 supermarket rental departments in the western United States. "I will be interested to see how it goes with '101 Dalmatians.' That will be a good test. I think that one will sell very well and rent pretty well," he said.

But it's a clear-cut story with the live-action titles with wider family appeal, Deere noted. "In our grocery stores, we love to see that kind of product. It is becoming a new category. It rents well and it continues to rent beyond the normal new release shelf life, so we appreciate that it is coming out."

Sell-through pricing helps when relatively unpredictable family titles come out, such as the Miramax title from Buena Vista, "The Neverending Story III: Escape From Fantasia," said Weddington at Harps. "I expect that to be one that will rent better than it sells. If it does that, then we can just open more from our sell-through inventory, rent them and then sell them off used. That's the nice thing about this business," he said.