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It's starting to look like an Indian winter for the sell-through video market. The two biggest titles announced so far for the early part of the year -- "Pocahontas" from Buena Vista Home Video, Burbank, Calif., and "Indian In the Cupboard" from Columbia TriStar Home Video, Culver City, Calif. -- both have Native American themes.These two titles, along with a number of others announced and not announced,

It's starting to look like an Indian winter for the sell-through video market. The two biggest titles announced so far for the early part of the year -- "Pocahontas" from Buena Vista Home Video, Burbank, Calif., and "Indian In the Cupboard" from Columbia TriStar Home Video, Culver City, Calif. -- both have Native American themes.

These two titles, along with a number of others announced and not announced, will enable the sell-through momentum built up during 1995 to continue next year, said retailers polled by SN. However, the big-hit direct-to-sell-through titles expected for release in the first six months will not be as strong as in the same period last year, when "The Lion King," "Forrest Gump" and "The Mask" were in the stores.

"So far, I'm not discouraged. There are some strong offerings," said Clifford Feiock, video coordinator at Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis. "They may not be as big as 'The Lion King,' but who is to say? We expect big things from 'Pocahontas,' and although 'Indian In the Cupboard' does not have a lot of notoriety, it looks like an excellent film to me. I hope we can do well with it."

"Indian In the Cupboard" will be the first of the big titles out in 1996, with a Jan. 16 street date. "Pocahontas" was recently moved up a week to a Feb. 28 release. Another strong sell-through title may be "Babe" from MCA/ Universal Home Video, Universal City, Calif., but the studio will not comment on its plans for this title as yet. The movie, about a talking, sheep-herding pig, will be out sometime in the first quarter, said distribution sources.

Other key sell-through offerings for early 1996 will be "The Amazing Panda Adventure," due out from Warner Home Video, Burbank, Feb. 13 and "Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie" from Sony Music Video, New York, which will street on Jan. 16. Two direct-to-video titles also figure prominently in the retailers' plans for early 1996. MCA/ Universal's "Land Before Time III: The Time of the Great Giving" will be released Dec. 15 and will still be selling well in the new year, said the retailers. Buena Vista is readying another title from its "Aladdin" franchise, "Jafar, King of Thieves." No date has been set for "Jafar" as yet, but it is now expected sometime in April.

Add to this list the many sell-through programs offered for fitness, children's, repriced rental titles and previously viewed.

With this many offerings, retailers can hope for a strong continuing revenue stream from video sales. However, it's a big question whether the early part of 1996 can top last year with "The Lion King," the best-selling video of all time, and "Forrest Gump," the Academy Award winner that did surprisingly well in supermarkets.

"The first part of the year will be slow, simply because there are not as many of the big blockbuster-type titles coming out," said Tom Styers, director of general merchandise and health and beauty care at Seessel's Supermarkets, Memphis, Tenn. "In sell-through, each individual quarter depends on what is being released."

But sell-through is becoming more important to Seessel's. "Video sell-through just seems to keep growing. We're very satisfied with the quantities that we are moving. It's an incremental sale for us," Styers said.

"It looks like it is going to be not quite as strong as the first quarter of '95, but certainly stronger than any year prior to that," said Bill Bryant, assistant vice president of major accounts and special markets at Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn. " 'Pocahontas' will be the lead title by far in the first quarter."

Few will dispute this ranking. The Disney animated feature released for the first time into theatrical distribution last year will probably be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, sell-through title of the year in supermarkets, much like "The Lion King" was in 1995, said industry observers.

"We are really looking forward to 'Pocahontas.' It's got a very wide appeal," said Denise Darnell, video supervisor at Southeast Foods, Monroe, La. "We've had lots of requests for it. Customers have been coming in looking for it from the time it was released in the theaters," she said.

That will help keep sell-through momentum going and growing. "There are so many people who started out collecting videos with Disney tapes and I'm sure they will continue to do so," Darnell said.

Styers of Seessel's agreed. " 'Pocahontas' will be just excellent, simply because of all the hype. There are a lot of Pocahontas products out there. A lot of Pocahontas toys are still going to be sold at Christmas. It is carrying pretty strong," he said. Seessel's also will probably cross-merchandise tie-in partner Nestle's products with the Disney movie, he said.

Bozzuto's, Cheshire, Conn., also is looking at cross-promotional opportunities with "Pocahontas," said Bob Kornas, buyer for the wholesaler. "Anything that comes through that is grocery-related will definitely get a consideration," he said. "The big item for us in the first quarter is going to be 'Pocahontas,' " said Brenda Vanover, video coordinator at K-VA-T Food Stores, Grundy, Va. "We will be taking deposits on the movie to presell it," she said.

While "Indian in the Cupboard" is seen as a good but less significant title, the mid-January timing of its release bodes well because little else will be out around that time, retailers agreed.

Kornas said "Indian" and the "Jafar" video will do well. "Those will be two nice kids' tapes. 'Indian In the Cupboard' has been played up a lot on TV already," he said.

" 'Indian In the Cupboard' is a cute movie and I like the packaging. That will help the sales of it," said Randy Weddington, video specialist at Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. "But all of our customers are eagerly awaiting 'Pocahontas,' of course," he added.

Weddington would have preferred a fourth-quarter release for 'Indian,' though. "The more the merrier. It might have hurt some people's open-to-buy, but I think the customers would have appreciated it," he said.

But big sell-through releases in the early part of the year work better for other retailers, like Seessel's, especially when it comes to cross-promotional displays, Styers said. "There is only so much room out there in the fourth quarter. You've got so much planned and so much that you can only sell in the fourth quarter," he said.

Many of those seasonal products have better margins than a big sell-through movie, he noted. "If you're competitive on a hit video, you've only got around 10% max in it, and sometimes not even that. The fourth quarter is our time to move some larger gross items. You want to carry the video because there is customer demand for it.

"But by the same token, if you have an item you are selling a lot of, and you can only sell it in the fourth quarter, and it carries a 30% to 35% margin, then that's the product you want out there in quantity," Styers said. As a result, space for displays with tie-in products suffers.

But it's another story in the first quarter, he noted. "Valentine's Day has never interfered with any tie-in because it is basically candy and that's about it. Easter is not much of a problem either," he said.

A street date timed for the first quarter can help boost sales for certain titles, Ingram's Bryant noted. "Titles that otherwise might have gotten lost in the fourth-quarter shuffle will become primary titles, such as 'Amazing Panda Adventure.' There will be high demand for titles like that," he said. "We've got so many offerings right now," said Nash Finch's Feiock about the fourth quarter. "It's like we are in sell-through overload." The last year has been extremely good for the sell-through market and the momentum will probably carry into the new year, he said. "I'm looking forward to dealing with '96," he said.

A variety of offerings will help K-VA-T meet last year's numbers, Vanover said. "I think it will be real close to what we did last year. You've got more children's and family titles coming out, and hopefully something similar to 'Forrest Gump' will come out, too. That should even it out pretty well," she said.

Weddington at Harp's said he also would like to see another strong theatrical title aimed at the adult audience come out at direct-to-sell-through pricing. Titles like "Apollo 13" "give us the bonus of getting some good rentals out of them, and then selling them off as previously viewed. We come out better in the long run on those," he said.

"It seems like there is always something available for sell-through," said Gayle Norrick, video coordinator at Scott's Food Stores, Fort Wayne, Ind. "There are always shippers of children's tapes and other products like that offered on a seasonal basis in addition to the hit movies like 'Pocahontas,' " she said. The Barney and Timmy the Tooth children's series are examples of videos that sell well at that time of year, she added.

Titles that Disney is putting on moratorium early in the year represent another opportunity. "If we know something is going on moratorium, we try to stock up on it so we will have it available," Norrick said.

"When Disney puts titles on moratorium, they grow in value," said Anita Reed, corporate video supervisor at Johnson Foods, Muskogee, Okla. "The public is finding out about that and they are really on top of it. They pay a lot more attention to video than they used to," she said.

Fitness tapes do well for some retailers in the first quarter. "January and February are the only months that we have any luck selling them," said K-VA-T's Vanover. "We will be putting some in, but we haven't decided which ones to go with." K-VA-T will promote these titles with radio ads, if co-op money is available, she said.

Johnson Foods will put fitness tapes in a new store it recently opened in Edmond, Okla., Reed said.

"We've tried them in our other stores, and they just didn't go too well. But I'm finding that customers in Edmond are more aware of fitness tapes and they are requesting them. Each store in each location is different," she said.

But many retailers echoed Reed's experience with fitness tapes in her other stores. "Every time I put them in for sell-through, I don't do well. It's not one of the hottest items that I carry," said Scott's Norrick.

Weddington is relatively new to Harp's, but he said, "From what my managers tell me, fitness really hasn't done much in the past."

At Bozzuto's, "we've done them in the past on continuities and they didn't do that great. So we've stayed away from the fitness and how-to tapes," said Kornas.

But Darnell at Southeast Foods is looking at putting some in for the first quarter.

"We have a meeting coming up with a studio that has a wide variety of fitness videos. We are probably going to look into that a little more than we have in the past," she said. Harvey's Supermarkets, Nashville, Ga., has a strong and growing previously viewed program, said Dennis Webrand, photo lab and video manager. These are provided by the retailer's video rental supplier, Selectrak Family Video, Hillside, Ill. In the first quarter, Harvey's will start an in-store program to promote its rental and previously viewed tapes, Webrand said.