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"Serenity" DVD - Retailers rail over studio date switches

Susanne Ault

Tuesday 22 November 2005, by Webmaster

Retailers rail over studio date switches

Traditional 90-day timeless shrinking

OCT. 21 | There’s a developing din of dissent over studios’ increased inclination to make last-minute street date swaps, which is forcing some retailers to scrap advertising plans on expected titles and cobble together new strategies.

Ideally, stores want date confirmation 90 to 120 days before street date in order to fashion effective promotional campaigns. But Universal Studios Home Entertainment slotted The 40-Year-Old Virgin for Dec. 13 with just 57 days to prepare, and DreamWorks Home Entertainment placed The Island on Dec. 13 with only 68 days of breathing room.

Frustration also accompanied 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s moving Robots to Sept. 27 in mid-July, after initially choosing Sept. 20 in June. Then, retailers dealt with a little more than two months’ preparation space between the new confirmation and street.

Last week, Buena Vista Home Entertainment indefinitely benched expected Jan. 10 TV releases of Once and Again, Beggars and Choosers and Boy Meets World.

“I think the studios are grappling with the fact that they’ve had two banner years of new releases, and this year is tougher,” said Trans World executive VP merchandising Fred Fox. “Everyone is looking to shift, but they need to give the retailer enough time to react.”

Normally, studios do give retailers likely street dates weeks in advance of their formal, public announcements. But this process appears fuddled. Chains have already circled and crossed out multiple dates for Warner Home Video’s Duma, now tentatively expected Jan. 10. And at deadline, stores still were twiddling thumbs over the tentative Dec. 20 placement for Universal’s Serenity.

“I still don’t have Serenity plugged in, so that risks it not going into print ads or getting any promotion,” said Tower national video advertising manager Terrel Porter-Smith. “I’m done with December. How can I put it into any programs if I don’t have the information?”

In fact, by mid-October, Wal-Mart and other retailers were demanding studio title solicitations for February releases.

Porter-Smith also noted that New Yorker Films’ Point of Order was initially expected Oct. 18, and she had slotted it in a Tower sale rack through Nov. 21. But its new Nov. 15 date so limits its promotion time that the Tower exec is poised to move it from racks to make room for other titles.

“It has become a little harder,” said Soumya Sriraman, VP marketing for Universal Music Video Distributors’ Visual Entertainment. “Far tighter [theatrical to DVD] windows are causing a lot of confusion.”

Fred Meyer buyer Randy Schaaf said the Robots date switch was a particular inconvenience, as his chain needed to redo signage. “I can’t begrudge [studios] for ultimately making decisions to boost sales,” Schaaf said. “But especially for a title that does $100 million at the box office, you need to know 90 to 120 days before it streets.”