Retailers eye potential fourth-quarter DVD boom

Action starts early with ‘Transformers,’ ‘Spider-Man 3’

On the eve of the fourth quarter, studio executives are feeling remarkably chipper. Even though DVD sales have been trending downward for much of the year and next-generation discs aren’t having much of an impact, they’re sticking to earlier predictions that a parade of high-octane theatrical hits as well as pricey collectable gift sets could lift consumer spending on home entertainment to record heights.

“The fourth quarter is bigger, and starting earlier, than ever before,” Warner Home Video president Ron Sanders said. “We believe consumer expenditures will expand with the size of the titles flowing through to retail through Christmas. And when we have large, tentpole titles to drive traffic, there is a corresponding increase in catalog impulse sales as well.”

Indeed, the theatrical value of titles coming to DVD between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 is about 17% above last year’s fourth-quarter lineup, according to Adams Media Research numbers.

The fourth-quarter action kicks off Oct. 2 with 20th Century Fox’s “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” with $131.8 million in boxoffice receipts, and the horror hit “1408” ($71.8 million boxoffice), from the Weinstein Co. and Genius Products.

The next Tuesday, Oct. 9, comes Universal Studios’ “Evan Almighty” ($100 million) and Sony Pictures’ “Surf’s Up” ($59 million), while Oct. 16 Paramount/DreamWorks will release the quarter’s first monster hit, “Transformers,” which with $312 million at the boxoffice currently stands as the year’s No. 3 movie.

Disney’s “Meet the Robinsons” ($97.8 million) hits shelves Oct. 23, followed Oct. 30 by Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man 3,” the year’s No. 1 movie, with a $336.5 million theatrical pedigree.

“In boxoffice value of films coming to video, October is a record month — more than 20% ahead of last year and almost twice what we saw two years ago,” Sanders said.

The action continues in November with Disney’s “Ratatouille” ($202.6 million) coming Nov. 6, the same day Universal hits with “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” which has $118.5 million in theatrical earnings.

“We have a powerful and eclectic slate of highly anticipated offerings that will collectively satisfy every palate,” Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig Kornblau said. He noted that Universal got an early start on fourth-quarter sales with the release this week of “Knocked Up.” He said that the studio hopes to continue the momentum through the end of the holiday shopping season.

The November slate continues Nov. 13 with Paramount/DreamWorks’ “Shrek the Third” — at $321 million, the year’s No. 2 movie — and Warner’s “Ocean’s Thirteen” ($117.1 million).

20th Century Fox will release the $134.1 million actioner “Live Free or Die Hard” on Nov. 20, a date shared with New Line’s “Hairspray” ($116.4 million) and Disney’s “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” ($84.5 million). The fact that a trio of high-profile new releases arrive in stores in time for the Thanksgiving holiday and the notorious Black Friday shopping frenzy underscores the fact that DVD marketers now perceive their product as a commodity ripe for impulse buys.

Nov. 27 is dark, but the action picks up again in December, beginning with Disney’s Dec. 4 release of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” the year’s No. 4 movie with $309.1 million in theatrical revenue.

Warner strikes a week later with “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” at $289.3 million the year’s No. 5 movie, accompanied by an elegant gift set of all five “Harry Potter” films priced at $149.99.

Also hitting stores Dec. 11 is Universal’s “The Bourne Ultimatum,” which has grossed $216.2 million to date and so far is the year’s No. 6 movie.

20th Century Fox announced last week that “The Simpsons Movie,” which earned $181.2 million in theaters, will be released Dec. 18 on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.