Several high-profile titles held back for 'fifth quarter'

January sales slower but still strong

The fourth quarter is barely under way, but studio DVD marketers already are eyeing January as a potentially lucrative time slot to release films that either broke theatrically too late for a pre-Christmas release or purposely were held back to avoid the fourth-quarter clutter.

Granted, January doesn't have as much appeal as it did a few years ago, when Christmas brought millions of new DVD households eager to feed their new machines. DVD players have become nearly as ubiquitous as VCRs, and buy rates have dropped now that the novelty has worn off. That is why no fewer than eight new theatricals with boxoffice grosses of more than $50 million have been pushed into December, including the year's No. 1 movie, Buena Vista's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," set for release Dec. 5, and $100 million-plus earners "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" from Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox's "The Devil Wears Prada," both arriving Dec. 12.

But what is known as the "fifth quarter" likely will be packed with high-profile theatricals, studio marketers said, primarily because of the flourishing gift-card business. An Accenture survey of more than 500 consumers in January found that 82% either had given or received a gift card during the preceding holiday season, and this year promises more of the same.

The first theatrical to drop into January is New Line Cinema's camp horror film "Snakes on a Plane," due Jan. 2, nearly five months after its theatrical bow. Other likely January releases include Paramount Pictures' "Jackass Number Two," Sony Pictures' "Open Season" and "Gridiron Gang" and Buena Vista's "The Guardian."

"We have experienced much success with early-January releases, particularly 'Wedding Crashers,' " New Line executive vp marketing Matt Lasorsa said. "Specifically, we secure great merchandising in a less cluttered environment and benefit from consumers who are exchanging holiday gifts and using gift cards for new purchases."

New Line released "Wedding Crashers" on Jan. 3 and wound up selling 8.3 million units.