DVDs see green on Black Friday as part of retail gains

Sales jump 6% from '06  as part of broad retail gains

CORRECTED 5:29 p.m. PT Nov. 28, 2007

Studio executives' hopes for a late-blooming fourth quarter received a big boost when Thanksgiving-week DVD sales took a sudden and significant upturn.

Nielsen VideoScan First Alert sales data reported that the number of DVD units sold through to consumers was up 6% from Thanksgiving week 2006 and a whopping 175% from the previous week. VideoScan data includes point-of-sale purchase data from such national chains as Best Buy, Target and Circuit City, but not Wal-Mart, which generally represents about 40% of the DVD sales market.

Industry sources say DVD sales at two key discount chains were up 16% and 18%, respectively, over last year. Sales were lifted not just by the usual Black Friday practice of deep-discounting -- recent hits like "300" were readily available for less than $6 -- but also surprisingly strong initial sales for new releases.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's "Live Free or Die Hard," released the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, generated first-week sales that were 20% ahead of projections, in addition to nearly 100,000 Blu-ray Disc copies, said Steve Feldstein, the division's senior vp corporate and marketing communications.

"The entire category was up significantly over last year, with growth of 15% and more, in many cases on Black Friday alone," he said.

Two other marquee new theatrical releases, New Line's "Hairspray" and Disney's "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," also sold well, while two big animated theatrical releases, "Shrek the Third" and "Ratatouille," remained in high demand in their second and third week in stores, respectively.

Studios without new theatrical hits in stores also saw a lift across all category lines. Warner Home Video president Ron Sanders said the company "had a great weekend with a very healthy market share."

He said Warner did particularly well with new TV-DVD releases, such as the "Full House" and "Gilmore Girls" complete-series sets, as well as theatrical and TV-DVD catalog items. Such children's movies as "Happy Feet" and the holiday-themed "The Polar Express" experienced a surge in sales, as did "Training Day," "300" and the "Lethal Weapon" films. "Planet Earth," the BBC series distributed by Warner, also saw an uptick in sales, seven months after its initial release.

The high-definition format war tilted even more heavily in favor of Blu-ray Disc despite a rash of inexpensive HD DVD players sold through Wal-Mart and other discount retailers in recent weeks. Nielsen VideoScan data for the week shows 72.6% of high-definition discs purchased by consumers were Blu-ray and just 27.4% were HD DVD. HD DVD players have been selling for as little as $98, one-fourth the lowest street price for a Blu-ray player.

Despite the sales frenzy, the rental business managed to hold its own Thanksgiving week, with Home Media Magazine market research estimating that consumers spent $176 million on renting DVDs, a 7.6% gain from the previous week.

The home video sales lift was part of a national upswing for retail in general. The National Retail Federation reported that Black Friday weekend sales were up a healthy 4.8% from last year, with more than 147 million shoppers hitting stores.

Smaller-ticket items were most in demand, with average expenditures of $347.44, down 3.5% from last year.

"While last year showed a greater emphasis on high-definition televisions, this year consumers were focused on lower-priced door-busters like digital photo frames, laptops and cashmere sweaters," said Tracy Mullin, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation.

Mullin noted that though the Black Friday weekend "was a complete success for many retailers, the results of the holiday season (as a whole) won't be determined until the last two weeks of December."