Releases such as "The Return of Jafar" from Buena Vista have focused retailers' attention on the potential of gaining additional dollars from the direct-to-video market.
Jack Talley, vice president of sales and marketing for Best Video Inc., a Dallas-based distributor, said he thinks direct-to-video is a "great" distribution method. "It's one more reason to go into the video store -- to get something that's exclusive in the video store," he said.
Talley noted the direct-to-video venue is not a new one. In fact, Jane Fonda's original workout video was the first direct-to-video success, he said. "We'll continue to see more direct-to-video titles. I think we've always had them and we'll probably see this happen more," he said. He mentioned James Michener's "Texas," which is coming to video from Republic Pictures Home Video before it is shown on television. It is not just feature-length movies that are successful when released direct-to-video; exercise tapes and adult videos such as those put out by Playboy and Penthouse also are distributed in this manner.
Some supermarkets are proceeding cautiously in buying direct-to-video titles, believing that only something with the marketing power of a new Disney release will stimulate consumers to pick up an unheard-of title.
Tim Harrison, video supervisor at Food Giant Supermarkets, Sikeston, Mo., said, "I don't see this concept being too successful -- coming out with a movie that doesn't have the exposure at theaters. It won't get that much more exposure coming straight to video and that's when a movie is the hottest -- the day it's released.
"With a movie people know about, they anticipate its release. There has to be a built-in recognition value," he continued.
Harrison did agree, though, that some of the new children's titles coming out, particularly Charles Band's Moonbeam label, are popular. "Niche kind of material like 'Dragon World,' 'Tiny Toons,' and other direct-to-video movies including Charlie Band's titles that include family-oriented movies on the Moonbeam label does have its place," Harrison said.
Children's videos, as exemplified by Buena Vista's "The Return of Jafar," a sequel to "Aladdin," have a specific market and they seem to move well, both for rental and sell-through. Sandy French, video coordinator for Thrifty Foods, Mount Vernon, Wash., said, "These kinds of videos have a definite place in the mix because they rent like crazy. We've also used them for sell-through and if you bring in a title like 'The Return of Jafar' or any Disney title like that, or a sing-along tape for children, they will sell like crazy."
French said her stores also carry direct-to-video titles aimed at more adult audiences, although adults are usually more choosy when selecting a rental for themselves than for their children. "We carry one to two copies of a made-for-video tape for rental purposes, although I don't bring in made-for-TV movies for sell-through as it's considered a B title and used for rental only," she said. French stressed the importance of interesting box art when trying to attract customers to a direct-to-video title they probably have not heard of before. "The success of these videos has a lot to do with the box art and the way it looks. If it looks interesting, it stimulates viewer interest. If the cover looks attractive, they'll pick it up and read the back to see what the story is about. If the plot sounds good, they'll rent it but if the box art isn't there, they won't even pick it up," she said.
Dan Black, general merchandise buyer at Raley's, West Sacramento, Calif., agreed that box art was important. "They'll see made-for-videos as an attractive and eye-catching package and if it sounds interesting, you'll get some people to rent it. You won't get the big rentals like you do with the big theatrical release that's exposed to all the advertising," he said.
A concern among retailers is the promotion of direct-to-video titles because advertising budgets are limited and, therefore, are usually directed to box office biggies instead of an unproven newcomer.
"With all the A titles coming out, your efforts and energies are pretty much tied up in those. There are a lot of big hits coming out this year and you want to save your advertising dollars for the big hits rather than trying to spend a lot of dollars to promote a title somebody just developed on video, which wouldn't make a lot of sense," Black said.
The marketing of these titles to the public is a task that has been carefully considered by those who regularly carry direct-to-video tapes, as well as the manufacturers and studios involved.
Steve Feldstein, director of publicity for Walt Disney Home Video, said his studio works with retailers to "develop plans that work for them.
"Presentation is everything, placement is everything," he said.
Disney frequently orchestrates some kind of product tie-in, such as a tie-in with Pillsbury and Mattel Toys for the release of "Jafar." When Disney releases its latest Jim Henson production, "Muppet Classic Theater," it will have a tie-in with Dial soap.
A top-level executive at a major supermarket chain based in Texas, who asked not to be identified, said the success or failure of a direct-to-video rental is in the hands of the retailer.
"If there's a title you believe in and if you bring in two pieces, no one else is going to believe in it. If you bring in 25 copies, they think 'Oh, it's a title I missed' and they pick it up. If you want to be competitive, you just have to market it the right way," he said.