DVDs start slower out of the box

Buyers aren't rushing out to buy latest titles on Day 1

With the exception of "Transformers," studio news releases touting first-day and first-week sales numbers have been conspicuously absent so far in the fourth quarter.

Studio marketing executives said that after several years of increasingly front-loaded DVD "openings," consumers aren't necessarily rushing out on Tuesdays, the day new releases typically arrive in stores, and snatching up the hot new hit of the week.

Rather, they are waiting until later in the week — and, studio executives hope, maybe even later in the holiday season — to buy their DVDs, perhaps waiting until more big titles are available and then doing all their holiday shopping at once.

"Sales are accumulating over a full week or two, rather than the fanboy Tuesday frenzy," said Steve Feldstein, senior vp marketing and corporate communications at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. "With uncertainty in the economy and gas prices creeping toward $4 a gallon, trips and purchases are more considered and consolidated."

One additional factor for the delay in DVD purchases is that the December release schedule this year is particularly packed with big titles. The feeling is that consumers might wait until "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (Dec. 4) and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (Dec. 11) are in stores before they do their holiday DVD shopping and also pick up titles like "Spider-Man 3," which came out Oct. 30.

"It's going to be a late Christmas all across retail, not just for DVD," said one studio president who asked not to be named. "But all indications are that we are going to have a great December."

The first two Tuesdays in December will bring movies with nearly $1 billion in boxoffice to the DVD counter, including such hits as "At World's End" ($309.4 million), "Phoenix" ($291.7 million) and "The Bourne Ultimatum" ($226.8 million and coming Dec. 11, the same day as "Phoenix").

Then, on Dec. 18, come five titles that had wide theatrical distribution, led by Fox's "The Simpsons Movie" ($182.9 million).

Most observers expect the big DVD rush to begin the day after Thanksgiving, on so-called Black Friday, when several hot new hits will be in stores, including Fox's "Live Free or Die Hard," Disney's "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" and New Line's "Hairspray."

An analysis of Nielsen VideoScan DVD sales numbers for titles released in August, September and early October shows no significant downtick in first-week sales. The top 20 sellers released in that time frame in 2006 realized an average of 62.3% of total sales in Week 1, while the top 20 sellers in the comparable period this year realized 62.2% of sales in Week 1.

There are indications, however, that the big hits may not be as front-loaded as they once were. Last year, "X-Men: The Last Stand" earned 72% of its total sales tally within the first week of its release, with Week 2 sales dipping to just 18%.

This year, "Transformers" was at 64% in Week 1 and 21% in Week 2.

"We're likely looking at a later shopping season," Feldstein said.
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