By Leah Hochbaum
International pop star Justin Timberlake made his acting debut last year in crime thriller Edison Force. But the film, which also starred such stalwarts as Kevin Spacey, Dylan McDermott and Morgan Freeman, never made it to the big screen. Dubbed a stinker by many, the movie went straight to DVD. While some flicks that go straight to DVD are surefire theatrical flops that studios are hoping not to lose money on, other films are actually made specifically for the DVD market — with genres such as children, family, action, holiday films and thrillers — seeing the most success when placed on store shelves.
“The economics of theatrical distribution and marketing are so daunting they don’t even merit consideration,” said Doug Schwalbe, executive vice president, Worldwide Distribution for Classic Media, which releases many of its titles straight to DVD after first airing them on broadcast television. “But a combination of TV and DVD is a reliable business model.”
Classic’s slate consists mostly of animated children’s fare — a genre that sells consistently well on DVD. “Nothing is a surefire way to make money,” said Schwalbe. “There is no cow that gives you chocolate milk, per se, but this is a reliable business model. And so long as you spend enough money on marketing, but not too much as to tank it,” you can easily get yourself a DVD hit.
In addition to children’s flicks, holiday movies also sell unfailingly on DVD. According to Schwalbe, perennials such as Classic’s The Legend of Frosty the Snowman, “tend to sell in the hundreds of thousands of units. And there are no drop-offs from year to year, so we tend to sell the same number of units each year.” Since Classic’s library isn’t hit-driven, “it’s fairly sustainable,” said Schwalbe.
Another way to sell a DVD is by having an audience ready and waiting in the wings. Harmony Gold’s Robotech: Shadow Chronicles was released on DVD last week and all pre-orders were sold out. The movie, which is a continuation of the famed animé series, Robotech, originally released in 1985, “did better in one day than lots of DVDs do in a week,” said Harmony Gold’s Melissa Wohl. “The show’s been off the air for 20 years and Shadow Chronicles answers the questions the fans want answers to,” she said. Plus, “there’s a lack of good, quality kids product out there, and this fills the void.”
Wohl also observed that in some territories, such as the U.K., it’s more important for a film to broadcast on television before it goes to DVD, while in others, such as the U.S., it’s completely insignificant. “The U.K. is just so much smaller,” she said, “and with so much product out there, seeing it on TV first gives it more cachet.”
Regent Entertainment’s Gene George agreed. “Anything strong in the straight-to-DVD market still has to have strong TV value,” he said.
The company, which recently picked up the international rights to Zyzzyxx Road — a movie that made headlines as possibly the lowest box office gross-er of all time with just $30 — has already sold the film in 23 countries, including Bulgaria, Portugal and Indonesia. By the end of 2006, the film had generated about $368,000 for Regent.
“We picked up Zyzzyxx Road because we felt it was good for DVD and also good for TV,” said George. “As long as it has the ability to play in broadcast TV, we’re happy to pick it up. Otherwise, we’re limiting the possibility of financial success.”
There are also more aspects to DVD, one of which is that in some cases, some pirates are foregoing the costs of putting up expensive duplicating and distribution settings, in favor of downloads and other Internet-based deliveries. In essence, technology, which created DVD piracy, is helping reduce DVD piracy. But this is a subject for another gathering at VideoAge’s watercooler.