Now that consumers have embraced the DVD format for hit movies and major action titles, many people in the entertainment industry are looking forward to young children's titles becoming popular on DVD as well.
Studios are attempting to lure kids to the format with added features and bonus material not available on the VHS versions, and retailers said they have started to see some interest in young children's DVDs. Still, the demand for children's titles on DVD is nowhere near what it is in other genres.
"As far as kids' titles go, DVD hasn't really quite taken off yet," said Dennis Shaver, president, Shaver's supermarkets, Boise, Idaho.
He said Shaver's, which operates three supermarkets offering video rental and sales, has been surveying people in the communities where it operates to determine the level of penetration of DVD players, and found that it was growing. "So, we've been getting into it, but the bulk of the DVD market for us is still the action movies, the non-kids' titles," he said
Other retailers also say they are just starting to see some interest in children's movies on DVD.
"Children's DVDs are slower, but they're catching on," said Carl Day, owner, Day's Market Place, Heber City, Utah. "All of a sudden I am selling more of the kids' DVD."
As an example of the disparity between VHS and DVD for mainstream and kids' titles, Disney's "Remember the Titans" has sold about 5.1 million copies on VHS, and another 2.8 million on DVD, according to data from Adams Media Research, Carmel Valley, Calif. Meanwhile another Disney title, "Little Mermaid II," sold more copies on VHS - 5.5 million total - but only 500,000 on DVD, according to the Adams data.
Of the top 10 VHS titles last year in terms of sales, seven could be classified as movies for young children. Among the top 10 DVD titles, only one - the "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" set - fell into the kids' category.
"DVD hardware had been in its early infancy, and early adopters of DVD were males 18 and up who were basically single households," explained Ewa Martinoff, vice president, family entertainment marketing, Warner Home Video, Burbank, Calif. "As the installation base gets stronger, we're seeing more women come into it as well as families. Right now the family genre is still in the infancy stage, but we do expect it to increase as time goes on and the installation base becomes broader."
Kelly Sooter, head of domestic home entertainment, DreamWorks, Glendale, Calif., also predicted that the full spectrum of video products will find their way onto DVD eventually.
"I think it will be driven by three things: families actually buying DVD players, product availability becoming more accessible and communicating to families the value and benefit to DVDs beyond just picture," she said. "The connection that a DVD is a video plus a software purchase packaged together, giving you so much more for your money, hasn't been made yet."
Consumers are continuing to purchase DVD players at a rapid pace, however, and Adams predicted that 24.8 million homes would have one by the end of this year. That doesn't mean those households are abandoning their VCR players, however, and many people in the industry expect the two formats to co-exist for a long period of time.
"The adults are going to want the DVD player," said Greg Hall, general manager, Video Group Distributors, Clearwater, Fla. "It's a better picture, better sound. They want the kids to be in the bedroom with the VCR. They don't care what the picture looks like."
Parents also might not trust their kids with handling DVDs like they do with tapes, according to Bill Bryant, vice president of sales, grocery and drug, Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn.
"DVDs are easily scratched. Most preschoolers have not developed the coordination skills to successfully change discs without damaging them," he said. "For this reason, VCRs are still the No. 1 choice among preschoolers."
Sooter of DreamWorks said parents will lighten up eventually, however.
"What typically happens in a family household is some resistance to allowing the child to use the DVD player, which is what had happened on the VCR and every other high-ticket electronic item," she said. "As people become more familiar and it becomes a part of everyday usage, they'll allow their children to play with the technology more - then they'll buy more product on that format."
Dennis Fedoruk, president, Small Fry Productions, Atlanta, which is launching a series of titles for preschoolers in October, said he thinks DVDs actually hold up better under toddler attack than VHS tapes do.
"Actually, we've found that the DVD format is a lot more child-resistant," said Fedoruk. "With VHS, they can lift the flap up and pull the tape out, and we've found the VHS to be more susceptible to damage."
He said his company held off on the release of the DVD titles, which focus on early childhood development, until the market was ready for the format. Like other studio executives, he thinks the added features that will be packed onto the DVDs will give parents incentive to buy them for their kids.
Some studios are just beginning to unveil new products on DVD featuring characters and properties that traditionally were available only on video.
For example, last week the first-ever Teletubbies DVD, "Baby Animals," from PBS Home Video, Alexandria, Va., and Warner Home Video, became available at retail.
Like many of the toddler titles that are coming out on DVD, the Teletubbies release contains several interactive features for both parents and children. "Baby Animals" contains 39 additional minutes of special features not contained in the 70-minute VHS version, including live-action inserts, a musical montage, a selection of scenes from other Teletubbies videos and - for parents - interviews with the creators of the series.
On Sept. 25, Anchor Bay Entertainment, Troy, Mich., will release "Best of Thomas," the newest title in the Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends series, on both DVD and VHS, marking the first time the popular character will be available on disc.
"We've invested a lot of time and money into really giving the parents and the children a quality product with lots of bonus features, so they can see the benefits of DVD for children," said Kristin Prylow, children's brand manager, Anchor Bay.
Added features on the DVD version will include a read-along story, interactive games, sing-along songs and a character gallery that gives background information on all of the inhabitants of the Thomas & Friends world.
Prylow said retailer interest in the DVD products increased as the studio unveiled the additional features that would be included on the discs.
"We're definitely shipping a lot more [DVD] than we originally projected," she said.
Some studio executives were a bit more tempered in their enthusiasm.
"I would compare it to the adoption of [music] CDs," said Sandy Garner, vice president of sales and marketing, Madacy Kids, Toronto, which is relaunching its "Mommy and Me" video line this fall on DVD. "Years later, there's all this music on disc, while with children's music, there's still a fair amount of business done on cassette."
She said Madacy has been debating how long it will be before the children's market embraces DVD to the extent that adults have.
"My guess is that it's still another year," she said.
However, some retailers that had shied away from children's DVD have started to take an interest, she said.