U.K. DVD: Prices down, sales up


LONDON -- British DVD sales soared 17% year-to-year in January as distributors dumped huge quantities of back-catalog titles through the big grocery chains at prices scarcely credible a few years ago, according to figures obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.

Heavy discounting of such catalog films as "Scarface" and "Babe," which were available at Tesco for £2.84 ($5.50) and £1.97 ($3.80) respectively, meant that the average cost of a DVD fell to just £7.58 ($14.66) for the month, a drop of £1.43 from 2006.

Catalog sales rose about 45%, against a 26% decline in new release sales for the month, according to internal industry data compiled by the British Video Assn.

The estimated value of the DVD market was £146.4 million ($283.2 million) in January, down 1.6% from the previous January.

Naturally, given the price promotions, the grocers showed the strongest rate of growth amongst the retailers with total volumes up 35%. The generalists -- Woolworths, WHSmith, Borders and Amazon -- also showed a healthy 16.3% rise in volumes but the specialists, including HMV, Virgin, Blockbuster and Play.com, saw volumes rise just 2.8%. The latter sector, however, was hit by the collapse of specialist chain Music Zone.

The No. 1-selling DVD for the month was Buena Vista's "High School Musical," with 134,500 units; in second place was Granada Venture's budget perennial "The Shawshank Redemption," which shifted another 112,000 units; and at No. 3 was the 111,000 unit sales of "Ice Age 2 -- The Meltdown" from Fox.

No. 1 distributor in terms of market share was Universal Pictures with 19.1%, followed by 20th Century Fox with 15.8% and Warner Home Video with 10.6%.

The continued move of DVDs into the mass market has made it less seasonal, according to the BVA. "This is probably because DVD owners tend to buy discs for themselves throughout the year, lessening the importance of gift buying in the last quarter," it said in its monthly report.

High-definition discs also made a showing in January with HD DVD discs shifting 5,500 units and Blu-ray DVD selling 1,200 units.

Figures for the rental sector made less appetizing reading -- for the fourth year in succession, there were no new entries in the all-time rental chart. "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (1995) remains the best-renting title of all time in the U.K., with just over 5 million turns. By comparison, 2006's No. 1 rental title "Flightplan" was rented 1.1 million times.

In January, the rental market saw transactions fall 8% to 7.9 million from a year ago despite an increase of 10% in the online rental market dominated by Lovefilm and Blockbuster. Online rentals now represent 29% of the total rental market in the U.K.

Top titles overall were "You, Me and Dupree" (Universal), "Children of Men" (Universal) and "Snakes On a Plane" (EiV). The same titles headed the rental chart in physical stores but the online rental sector was markedly different. No. 1 online was "Mission: Impossible III" (Paramount), followed by "Superman Returns" (Warner) and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (Buena Vista). Of the overall top three, only "Snakes on a Plane" made the Top 30 online chart at No. 14.

Universal was the top rental distributor with 22.8% of the market, followed by Fox Pathe with 17.9% and Sony Pictures with 11%.