DVDs see green on Black Friday

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

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 36% 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 said DVD sales at two key discount chains were up 16% and 18% compared with 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.

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 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.

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."