DVD distribs think inside the box as movies plateau


When times in home video get tough, the industry has a way of finding a lucrative new revenue source. Now that DVD sales have flattened, a growing number of industry fingers are pointing to premium-priced gift sets of popular movies or TV shows, packaged in fancy boxes and commanding hefty price tags.

"Collector's sets are a half-billion dollar market, with revenue growing at a nearly double-digit pace," said Jeff Brown, senior vp television and family product at Warner Home Video. "Core fans of popular franchises will buy the sets if they deliver on value."

Brown points to Warner research that shows that while DVD sales overall are in a slight decline, sales of the high-end gift sets are up 7% for the year so far and expected to climb further because 72% of sales occur in the second half.

Gift sets first began popping up several years ago, with such early entries as HBO Video's complete series set of "Sex and the City," packaged like a hardbound book and listing for $300, and Universal Studios Home Entertainment's "Scarface Deluxe Gift Set" ($60), housed in a faux leather box and including such trinkets as a Tony Montoya money clip and a set of collectible lobby cards.

But lately the trend has accelerated, with handsomely boxed complete series sets of such popular TV series as "Friends," "M*A*S*H" and "The West Wing," as well as elegant movie gift sets like the complete collection of "Superman" movies that comes in a tin case along with a reproduction of a vintage Superman comic book and a mail-in offer for five movie posters.

Warner has done so well with its gift sets that it is picking up the pace this year, offering no fewer than 14 sets before Christmas. On the TV side, the studio has complete series sets of such shows as "Gilmore Girls" (coming Nov. 13 for $260), "The O.C." (due Nov. 27 at $200) and "Full House" (hitting stores Nov. 6 at $170), the latter packaged in a replica of the sitcom's trademark row house.

On the movie side, highlights include a five-disc collector's edition of "Blade Runner" packaged in a gray metal briefcase ($79) and a boxed set of all five "Harry Potter" movies so far, which comes in a suitcase and includes five collectible silver-plated bookmarks, available exclusively with the DVD. The "Potter" set will be available on DVD ($119) as well as both next-generation formats, Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD ($149).

Jeff Baker, senior vp theatrical catalog for Warner Home Video, projects that these two releases alone will generate $40 million in consumer spending. Quantities will be limited to about 100,000 copies of "Blade Runner" and 250,000 of the "Potter" collection.

"Two or three years ago, we were one of the first studios to push and promote boxed sets of our library titles, consisting of five or seven films, each in their own Amaray cases, with an outer sleeve around them," Baker said. "But what we decided about a year ago -- beginning with 'King Kong' and 'The Wizard of Oz' and then the 'Superman' tin -- was to add memorabilia and other types of collectible items and set ourselves apart with something that has a higher perceived value.

"Based on our success with those titles, it became clear that our strategy worked -- consumers are willing to pay for quality and collectibility as long as you have the right ingredients," he added.

Warner sold "not tens of thousands but north of a hundred thousand" copies of the collectible "King Kong" and "Wizard of Oz" sets, Baker said, while all 125,000 copies of the "Superman" tin sold out.

Brown points to similar success on the TV side, noting that the "Friends" set sold more than 100,000 units at a list price of $300.

"Certain shows have such rabid fans that they want it all," Brown said. "In fact, our research shows that more than 30% had already bought all 10 of the season sets, while 35% had never bought a single season set but were so intrigued with the complete series (that they decided to buy it).