WILL BEST PICTURE BLOOM ON RENTAL SHELVES?

LOS ANGELES -- Last week's big Academy Award movie winner here, DreamWorks' "American Beauty," with five Oscars, including Best Picture, doesn't guarantee success in the rental market, said grocery retailers and video distributors polled by SN.Slated for a May 9 debut on the rental shelves (prebook April 17), DreamWorks is expected to put the kind of marketing clout behind the video release as it

LOS ANGELES -- Last week's big Academy Award movie winner here, DreamWorks' "American Beauty," with five Oscars, including Best Picture, doesn't guarantee success in the rental market, said grocery retailers and video distributors polled by SN.

Slated for a May 9 debut on the rental shelves (prebook April 17), DreamWorks is expected to put the kind of marketing clout behind the video release as it did the theatrical. A multimillion dollar ad campaign will feature television and radio promotions, Web site promotions, and trailers on titles such as "The Hurricane" and "Man on the Moon." DVD release is slated for the fourth quarter.

Currently, the title has earned $109 million after six months at the box office, according to Variety. Industry watchers say DreamWorks hopes to add $15 million to its domestic box office as a result of its multi-Oscar take.

According to Kelly Sooter, head of domestic home video for DreamWorks Home Entertainment, Glendale, Calif., "American Beauty" was such a sleeper hit that its release on video is expected to generate widespread media coverage in both print publications and on television shows such as 'Entertainment Tonight' and 'Access Hollywood.'

While exact details of the promotion have not been finalized, Sooter said DreamWorks anticipates the title to be a huge hit on video, despite its quirky depiction of American suburban life. She noted that retail outlets such as supermarkets, which service such a mainstream clientele, should do just as well with the title as those in urban markets. "This is not an arthouse movie," she said. "We've pulled the theatrical data, and it's playing everywhere across America, not just New York and Los Angeles. In fact, it couldn't have earned the money it has playing in just the larger markets.

"I think grocers are aware of how broad its appeal is. When they look at their own marketplace, they'll see that it has done incredibly well."

Retailers and distributors said that if a title is released right after the awards ceremony, it will see a few extra turns, but over the long haul, if it's a film that doesn't generate mainstream excitement, it will sit on the shelves no matter how many Oscar wins it receives.

"Think of all the Academy Award-winning titles available on video," said Kirk Kirkpatrick, vice president of marketing at WaxWorks/VideoWorks, Owensboro, Ky. "There's 'Schindler's List,' 'Driving Miss Daisy,' 'Out of Africa' -- they were great films, but they just don't rent. If you look at 1987, it was probably the single best year in the history of home video, but if you look at the top-renting titles, you won't see 'The Last Emperor.' You'll see 'Dirty Dancing."'

Kirkpatrick concedes, however, that if a video is released right on the heels of the awards ceremony, as was "The Sixth Sense" on March 28 two days after the awards broadcast on March 26, it will rent better than if it's released a few months later. But overall, the general public isn't as concerned with Oscar buzz as perhaps Hollywood might wish, a sentiment echoed by Jason Hoyle, video buyer at Hilander Foods, Rockford, Ill.

"It's actually a bad thing if Oscar titles aren't released right away, because that's when people want to see them," he said. "A lot of people just don't go to the movies, and instead wait for the video release. But overall, most people around here don't pay much attention to the Academy Awards. We've tried Oscar promotions in the past, and they didn't do much good."

Prior to the awards presentation, the titles customers are asking about most, said Hoyle, was "The Sixth Sense" and "American Beauty." Not a single person inquired about the other nominated films -- "The Insider," "The Cider House Rules" and "The Green Mile," he noted.

"I liked all of those movies," Hoyle said, "but they're somewhat non-descript. It's an odd year in that sense."

Other video buyers agreed. "The only Oscar-nominated movie customers were asking about is 'The Sixth Sense,' said Holly Edwards, video manager of Macey's, Sandy, Utah. "What makes a movie rent around here is if it's recently been on television or in theaters. Other than that, the Oscars don't mean a lot."

Tom Bendry, video buyer at Angeli's, Iron River, Mich., summed it up even simpler. "It's not Oscars that make people rent," he said. "It's the weather."

Kirkpatrick recommends one way supermarkets can capitalize on the Oscars is to do a promotion around a winning actor, Kevin Spacey for "American Beauty," or actress, Hilary Swank for "Boys Don't Cry." "Your Kevin Spacey titles will rent more," he said. "Home video isn't really a success because of spectacular movies, but because it has expanded the whole concept of movie stars. It's the stars that we sell."

Kirkpatrick can't resist naming even more Oscar winners that have faded from the video radar. "I don't care how many Academy Awards 'Gandhi' won. Unless it's Gandhi with machine guns, no one is going to rent it these days," he said. "If you look at the top video renters of the last 20 years, you certainly aren't going to find 'Chariots of Fire."'