DVDs are beginning to steal the show from box-office releases

DVDs are beginning to steal the show from box-office releases

Along with fruitcake, you likely received a DVD for the holidays. Americans prefer watching films at home, where the popcorn is cheaper. In fact, 2004 disk revenues are expected to more than double box-office tallies.

With DVDs becoming cash cows, studios are putting more emphasis and money into home-entertainment marketing. DVD premieres are starting to rival those of theatrical releases for their lavishness and media coverage. Some movies' video sales and rentals have so greatly exceeded box-office grosses that the theatrical run is viewed merely as an "exhibition marketing campaign."

One such example is Universal's Van Helsing, a summer release starring Hugh Jackman that didn't do very well at the box office, but had monster DVD success.

"With audiences becoming increasingly sophisticated, home entertainment requires broader multi-level outreach and promotional tie-ins," says Evan Fong, who directed the Van Helsing campaign. "There is greater competition for media coverage as well, which pushes us to develop more creative publicity strategies."

Fong concentrated on targeted audiences for the film, including sci-fi, family, and ethnic demos, and conducted a large radio campaign to reach young listeners.

"Our first goal was to reposition the film from its theatrical perception as a monster movie, and instead sell it as an action film," Fong says. "We also emphasized the DVD's bonus features and a behind-the-scenes look at visual and special-effects sequences."

As Jackman was unavailable for much of the campaign because of a Broadway commitment, Fong and his team relied heavily on a media-sampler disk containing the above-mentioned features and updated cast interviews. The actor's limited window in New York was seized in a big way.

"We held the first-ever junket for a DVD release," says Fong, "in conjunction with the Sky Captain junket in New York. "The actors were able to discuss all the new material on the disk, which provided them with something different to talk about with the journalists, many of whom had already interviewed them at the theatrical junket."

Universal also cleverly used a prop from the film, Jackman's crossbow, as a media promotional item, generating added coverage in such outlets as USA Today and CNN. Finally, the studio conducted an online premiere the day of the disk's release, showing exclusive interviews and interactions with the technicians at George Lucas' famed ILM, which did the film's visual effects.

Van Helsing sold over four million copies in one week, and quite possibly made its way into your stocking.

Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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