Supermarkets and distributors are counting on heat to drive customers into their video departments this summer regardless of what titles are available.
Traditionally, they said, the summer season is second only to the winter holidays in sales and rentals, and it doesn't really matter what titles are on the shelves -- many people just want to stay indoors, usually to escape the blistering hot weather. Their choice of entertainment is often a video or a game.
That said, though, Bob Tollini, senior vice president of marketing at Major Video Concepts, Indianapolis, Ind., said this summer is a "fluke" in terms of how few big titles are being released on video. While he doesn't believe it will affect business all that much, he finds the shortage somewhat remarkable.
"The national box office for 1999 is a little over $7 billion," he said. "If you divide that by 12, that's $600 million a month. In the month of July, the titles being released add up to $390 million [in box office receipts]. That's 35% below the average month. In August, the total is $310 million, which is 48% below the average month. It's just fluky that it's such a weak slate."
Jason Hoyle, video manager at Hilander Foods, Rockford, Ill., said that aside from Warner Home Video's "The Green Mile," which will be released June 13, "there's not a whole lot coming out. But the summer months are usually really good for us, and most of the time, people will rent anything. What Hollywood needs to do is make better movies, because there's certainly no shortage of demand."
Most supermarket retailers agreed, noting that "The Green Mile" is perhaps the biggest title on deck, followed by Buena Vista Home Video's "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" (June 20), Paramount Home Video's "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (June 27) and Buena Vista's "Scream 3" (July 4).
Other titles slated for release to date are: Columbia TriStar Home Video's "Girl, Interrupted," (June 6) and New Line Home Video's "Next Friday," (June 13); Buena Vista's "Bicentennial Man" and "Play It to the Bone," (June 20); Twentieth Century Fox's "Anna and the King;" (July 11); Universal Home Video's "The Hurricane," Warner Home Video's "My Dog Skip," and "The Whole Nine Yards," (July 18); Paramount's "Angela's Ashes," Fox's "The Beach" and New Line's "Magnolia," (July 25). Slated for release in August are Universal's "Erin Brockovich" and Buena Vista's "The Cider House Rules"(dates to be announced).
"'The Green Mile' will be one of the best renters, but there are no real blockbusters," said Gail Norrick, video manager at Scott's Food Stores in Fort Wayne, Ind. "If the summer months are hot and dry, rentals will increase. Once it's too hot for the kids to be outside, they rent games and videos.
"Personally, I think video is pretty flat, and it has been for a couple of years," she added. "Video isn't dying off, but we're not on an upward swing, either, although DVD took off more after Christmas."
It's DVD that Kirk Kirkpatrick, vice president of marketing at WaxWorks/VideoWorks, Owensboro, Ky., believes retailers should focus on this summer in the absence of blockbuster releases.
"Without a home run to go after, this [summer's slate] will be a challenge for supermarkets," he said. "Overall, it's a challenge these days for them to even stay in the game -- I'm sure some believe they can probably make more money using that space to sell potato chips. But what they should consider is embracing DVD more. The amount of space and money they'd have to invest would be small enough that they could make it work. A DVD section would also draw a unique customer to their stores."
Kirkpatrick noted that there are no buying programs with DVDs, and each only costs about $15 wholesale. "Grocers could save a lot of time and employee energy, and satisfy a growing part of the business all at one time by moving into DVD," he said. "Some say it's still too early, but how long will they keep saying that? Until everyone has a DVD player?"
He agreed that the summer months are breezy rental months, nevertheless. Also, he believes that strong titles that came out in the spring, such as "The Sixth Sense" and "American Beauty," will have legs well into the summer, a sentiment echoed by Bob Gettner, video manager for B&R Stores in Lincoln, Neb.
"Summers here in general are pretty good," he said, "especially with games. In fact, games will have even a bigger impact this summer, thanks to the impending release of Playstation 2 in September; that will fuel rentals even more.
"As for videos, 'The Green Mile' will be a good renter, and we expect some good longevity on 'The Sixth Sense' and 'American Beauty."'
Kirkpatrick said when consumers return for the blockbusters, it's incumbent upon grocers to steer them to other titles they may not have considered renting.
He noted that the "The 10th Kingdom," for example, was a title that played for three nights on television, and had plenty of advertising.
"Chances are, a lot of people didn't see that movie all three nights," he said. Grocers also have tremendous opportunities for cross-promotions in-store simply using catalog titles, said Kirkpatrick. "They could put two John Candy or two Julia Roberts movies together, call it a double feature and throw in a bag of popcorn, all for three bucks."
Martin Blythe, vice president of publicity at Paramount Home Video, Hollywood, Calif., agreed that grocers have an opportunity this summer to direct renters to lesser-known, yet very high-quality titles.
"We have 'La Cucaracha' coming out June 13 -- a title Roger Ebert raved about," he said. "These titles have a terrific return on investment."
Blythe also agreed that this summer would be a good time for grocers to stock up on DVD. "With the explosion of DVD, there are now many choice catalog titles to choose from in building a collection," he said. "We were surprised by the strong sales of the original 'Star Trek' series, but it indicated to us that while consumers may be picky, if there are titles out there they really want, they'll go after them." On July 11, Paramount will release "Star Trek," Volumes 13 and 14 at $29.99 each, as well as "Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn," also at $29.99. The DVD release of Paramount's "Braveheart" is rumored for an August release.
"On the one hand, you could lament that you have no blockbusters this summer," said Kirkpatrick, "but on the other hand, the blockbusters are the titles that everyone has already seen. Yet it really doesn't matter too much what's coming out, particularly if supermarkets use their cross-promotional opportunities."
Tollini reminded retailers that while the summer slate may be weak, that means that other months will be unusually strong. Already, "Any Given Sunday" -- which drew $76 million at the box office -- is slated for a September release in time for the football season. Traditionally, the fall and spring months are slow, so heftier titles arriving in these periods may actually be a boon.
"Typically, the weak periods are the transition months -- September and October, and April and May," he said. "It just so happens that we've got one this summer."