BURBANK, Calif. -- Disney's huge animated hit "The Lion King" will be released to the video sell-through market March 3, according to distribution and retail executives. The title will carry a suggested retail price of $26.99 and will be in stores shortly after it concludes its second theatrical run during the holiday season. Will-call date -- when stores can display the product -- will be Feb. 28, and March 3 will be the national advertised availability date. Retailers cannot advertise that they have the product prior to the NAAD. Preorder date is Jan. 17. Steven Feldstein, a spokesman at Buena Vista Home Video, confirmed that these were the studio's plans, but would not provide any more details. Buena Vista is the Walt Disney Co.'s video marketing and distribution subsidiary. This represents a change in the company's release practices. Usually it sends its biggest titles to the video market in the fourth quarter. This reflects a growing confidence in video sell-through as a year-round business, said industry observers. "I'm surprised," said Kirk Mueldener, director of video operations at Hy-Vee Food Stores, Chariton, Iowa. "It makes me wonder what they are going to bring out in the fall," he said. "'Lion King' will be the most exciting event in the first quarter," said Karen Welch, video buyer at Clyde Evans Markets, Lima, Ohio. "It's great for us," said Rick Ang, director of video operations at Bel Air Markets, Sacramento. "The closer the video release is to the end of the theatrical run, the better. It keeps it fresh in people's minds."
"The Lion King" has earned $267 million at the box office so far. It could exceed "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" as the top video of all time, said industry observers.