The home video business is estimated to be worth somewhere in the
region of $19 billion a year. With sales of everything from
movies to exercise videos, it's big business. But it has traditionally
existed in the shadows of Hollywood with both the press and public
focusing their attention on the video releases of new movies.
Thanks in large part to Hollywood's willingness to heavily promote
select video/DVD releases (Hannibal being the most recent example), some
media outlets have gotten into the habit of turning the home debut of
top films into major entertainment events.
Bender Helper Impact SVP Shawna Lynch says the audience is much wider
than those of the usual entertainment outlets such as E! and Access
"You can get on the Today show, you can get on Live with Regis & Kelly,
and you can get on The View. But you have to think out of the box, like
you're coming up with an entirely new product."
Part of the reason for this interest is that as well as being a cash cow
for the studios, the stars, directors, and producers of movies now
realize that DVD and video launches often give films a second chance to
"Home releases have a longer shelf life, so sometimes you have an
opportunity to make up for a not-so-solid theatrical release in the
video market," explains Lynne Hillman, director of publicity for USA
Hillman, whose company's last major home video release was Traffic, says
it can be harder to line up the film's stars for the video release. But
she adds that directors and producers often relish the opportunity to
talk about the film in great detail when it reaches DVD.
Sue Procko, who as president of Sue Procko Public Relations represents
Anchor Bay Entertainment, says home video reviewers can be just as
critical as the theatrical press, but they differ in many ways. "They're
all film buffs," she says. "Their judgment is based more on the quality
of the output and extras such as how much effort the studios made to
ensure the disc is the best it can possibly be."
Retelling the story in a new way
But just as every picture tells a story, every video or DVD release
inevitably needs a new angle to pitch, especially with older movies
making their home debut. While preparing for the release of the 25th
anniversary edition of 1975 cult film The Stepford Wives, Anchor Bay and
Procko discovered that leading drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb was
actually a part owner of the movie. The resulting story on how drug
companies dabbled in the film business several decades ago became a new
hook for pieces in The New York Times and on film buff websites.
Carl Samrock has done media relations for the home video divisions of
Warner, Columbia-Tristar, Universal, New Line, and other movie
He recently finished a home video campaign on behalf of The Stanley
Kubrick Collection, which included not only the director's more
high-profile films, but also the original documentary Stanley Kubrick: A
Life in Pictures.
"We screened that film just as if it was a theatrical release for the LA
film critics and video writers," he notes.
However, Samrock concedes that straight-to-video releases are sometimes
viewed as a lesser product. But he adds that new video material can
sometimes reach beyond media outlets. "If the film is good, you have an
advantage if it's a new product ... because you have an opportunity to
reach reporters that wouldn't normally cover home video," he says.
DVD has arrived
The whole home-entertainment category is in the middle of a renaissance
of sorts, thanks to the 1997 arrival of DVD, the disc-based format. In
many ways, DVD has helped move home video beat reporters out of a bit of
"In the past, home video coverage was always relegated to a column on
what's coming out this week, along with compressed versions of the
original film review," explains Bender Helper Impact's Lynch. But thanks
to DVD, she adds, "The consumer media is actually devoting a lot more
space to home entertainment now."
Bruce Apar, editor-in-chief of leading trade magazine Video Store says
industry magazines have embraced DVD because of how it has changed the
video industry. "You do notice in the press release how much more
they're saying and how many more extras they're packing in, such as
Scott Hettrick, who writes for Daily Variety and Video Business
magazine, echoes that theme, although he insists the home video beat has
always been about more than just product releases. "We've covered what
the studios are doing with Blockbuster and other retailers, as well as
what they're releasing to consumers," he says.
But it's important to note that the vast majority of home videos and
DVDs are not recent theatrical releases. In addition to
straight-to-video movies, TV shows, or music events, home video also
includes how-to, exercise, and children's products, as well as a host of
other original productions.
The Blaze Company SVP Karen Gee-McAuley says she targets fitness outlets
and parenting publications for her clients (Baby Einstein children's
videos and Denise Austin exercise tapes). In addition to product press
releases, McAuley says she also pitches the companies and personalities
behind the videos. "If you have a quick succession of video releases
that are two to three months apart, most outlets won't review every one
because there's so much product out there," she says. "So sometimes
they'll lump several together in one story, and in those cases it helps
to have a business angle to add depth."
Among the leading consumer and trade journalists covering home video are
Peter Nichols of The New York Times, Susan King of the Los Angeles
Times, Randy Salas of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (whose column is
syndicated nationally), and Al Brumly of the Dallas Morning News.
Traditional movie reviewers who also cover home-video releases include
Leonard Maltin, Roger Ebert, and Richard Roeper.
The leading trade journalists are Bruce Apar and T.K. Arnold of Video
Store, Scott Hettrick of Video Business, Ralph Tribbey of the DVD
Release Report, and Eileen Fitzpatrick of Billboard.
PR execs pitching the home video category are advised to look out for
new stories behind their product laurels, and make the most of the DVD's
effect on the industry's revival.
WHERE TO GO
Magazines: Entertainment Weekly; People; US Weekly; Fangoria (horror
Trade publications: Video Store; Video Business; Hollywood Reporter;
Variety; Billboard; DVD Weekly Report
TV & Radio: E!; Access Hollywood; ET; Today; Ebert & Roeper and the
Movies; home entertainment and technology reporters at local TV outlets
Internet: www.dvdreview.com; www.dvdfile.com; www.thedigitalbits.com;
www.dvdtalk.com; www.mrshowbiz.com; www.aintitcoolnews.com