Warm weather usually means a deep chill for home video, and the studios have always planned their release schedules accordingly, saving the good stuff for later in the year.
But there are indications already that this year may be different for retailers. Five movies that had grossed over $100 million at the box office are scheduled for the summer months, where last year there were only two, and with the theatrical-to-video window shrinking, more strong titles may yet be announced.
At worst, the summer season will be as good as last year, with the possibility that it may be as surprisingly strong as this year's first quarter.
Meanwhile, retailers are counting on children's titles and catalog programs to boost impulse sales and margins, particularly during the high-traffic back-to-school period.
"I am hoping for big things this summer," said Craig Hill, video specialist, Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. "With the titles that are coming, plus the [catalog] racking systems we are putting in, we are looking forward to a good summer. We've got good product out there at a good price, and we are actually trying to compete with Wal-Mart." The summer's $100 million-plus club so far includes "Daredevil" and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," both grossing a little above $100 million; "Bringing Down the House" at $126 million; "Chicago" and "Die Another Day," both exceeding $160 million; and the big hitter of the season, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," at nearly $340 million. (Most of these are still playing in movie theaters.)
The two $100 million-plus movies last year were the first movie in the trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," which grossed $313 million; and "Black Hawk Down," at $108 million.
Denis Oldani, director of video, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, is looking forward to "a good summer. June seems to be stronger than last year with 'About Schmidt,' 'The Jungle Book 2,' 'Kangaroo Jack' and 'Die Another Day' all on DVD. July is slower with 'Shanghai Knights' and 'Daredevil.' August looks great with 'Bringing Down the House,' 'Chicago' and 'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."'
"It's a consistent and strong release schedule for both rental and sell-through," said Bill Bryant, vice president, sales, Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn. In past years, strong titles in June and July were very sparse, "but that seems to be changing for the better. The DVD format is affording all retailers incremental opportunities in sell-through and rental revenues," he said.
"My purchases and pre-books have been a little heavier, and my video sales have generally been a little better," said Carl Day, owner, Day's Market Place, Heber City, Utah.
Overall, video will not be as big as in the winter, "people will be outside more, and summer vacations will affect things a little bit. But I still think people will watch more video this summer than they have in summers past," Day said.
With the titles released so far, it is difficult to calculate where the total box office for the summer video releases will end up, noted Andrew Miller, director, supermarket division, Rentrak Corp., Portland, Ore. The cumulative box-office total for the first quarter for movies grossing $8 million or more was up $63% over 2002, but declined 10.5% in the second quarter.
However, June was up 1.5%, and July looks like it will be flat, Miller said. "I see a couple of strong titles [in July], but I don't think it is going to be a big month compared to last year," he said.
With three titles over $100 million -- "Bringing Down the House," "Chicago" and "Lord of the Rings" -- August looks promising, but at a total for the three of $626 million, there is still a long way to go to reach last year's $882 million. "So what happens in July, August and September, which is a peak season for video, is going to be real important for retailers," he said.
Titles in April, May and June were not as strong as the first quarter, said Brenda Vanover, director of video operations, K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va. Overall, she expects the summer to be "about the same" as last year, cautioning that all the new releases haven't been announced yet.
"Looking ahead to the summer and the titles scheduled to come out, it appears comparable to last year," said Rodney Saterwhite, vice president, retail business development, Warner Home Video, Burbank, Calif. But with the big hits coming out in July and August, "all in all, it should be slightly stronger than last year," he said.
"Since the introduction of DVD, summer has become a hot selling season, much more so than with VHS," said Lori McPherson, vice president, live-action marketing, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Burbank, Calif. "We now reserve summer windows for big titles where we used to concentrate those titles in the winter and spring," she said.
Among the summer titles for this year, "there is a nice blend of blockbuster hits and Oscar favorites," said Jim Foster, senior vice president of sales and mass merchandisers and communications, Universal Music and Video Distribution, Universal City, Calif. "Overall, there will be a stronger video release schedule during summer 2003 vs. last year, with more big-action titles hitting the market, particularly during June."
Additionally, "increasing "DVD household penetration and increased levels of active spending among video consumers will definitely push video sales throughout the rest of 2003," he said.
"I think it will be a strong, healthy summer," said Kelly Sooter, head of domestic home entertainment, DreamWorks Home Entertainment, Glendale, Calif. "I think we are going to see numbers outperform previous years. Just as every quarter seems to be increasing vs. the previous year's quarter, you are going to see that momentum continue," she said.
"Entertainment overall is just at such a peak. There are so many really good movies coming out theatrically, and they are coming out on video and coming out a little bit faster," she said.
Many significant movies have not been announced yet, and the big summer theatrical hits will start coming out as early as the July and August period. Two examples she cited from other studios were "Agent Cody Banks" and "Anger Management." "All those movies have to find a place. You will see some people jockeying around for that end-of-August, beginning-of-September time period," Sooter said.
"Based on our company's slate and the product offered by our colleagues, DVD and video will make the living room the place to be this summer," said Tracey Garvin, vice president, marketing, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, Culver City, Calif. "We see the growth of DVD continuing. The product slate will help to ensure it," she said.
At Delta Entertainment, Los Angeles, "we are anticipating a hot summer of DVD sales," said George Fiscus, director of grocery and drug sales, and former general merchandise executive with Bashas', Chandler, Ariz.
"The summer months offer a huge assortment of opportunities for all ages. Animated features, music videos, comedies, documentaries -- there are really no limits in serving the high consumer demand in the DVD market," Fiscus said.
"Summer traditionally is a great time for titles that appeal to the entire family," said Martin Blythe, vice president, publicity, Paramount Home Entertainment, Hollywood, Calif. "The kids are out of school, families are on vacation, and they need entertainment. For example, we have high hopes for 'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.' I would think it appeals to almost everyone," he said.