Summer Vid Glut Steams Retailers

It’s spring, and bile is in the air.

With kids coming home from school, the warm months ahead are a peak season for vid rental. But long before summer’s swelter, retailers are hot under the collar over the major studios’ increasing tendency to pile up the hit pics in June.

Bunching the Christmas theatrical releases in summer has become standard practice. But this year, retailers – who often base their purchasing power on the previous month’s receipts – say a particularly dismal set of spring titles and a rush of releases in June are leaving them holding the bag.

They complain that studios are playing fast and loose with the traditional six-month window between theatrical and vid releases, and they wish suppliers would space out the hits over the summer.

Warner Bros. has held up the vid releases of “Reversal Of Fortune” and “Goodfellas” until June, presumably to rake in more theatrical boxoffice on the strength of the pics’ Oscar wins. Both films hit theaters more than eight months ago; the normal six-month window would have seen April or May vid releases.

Instead, Warner Home Video rushed out the disastrous “Bonfire Of The Vanities” this month – only four months after it opened theatrically – followed by the regular May release of two more duds: “The Rookie” and “The Sheltering Sky.”

Retailers, with their limited cashflow and reserves, usually spend 25% to 33% of the previous month’s revenue on purchases, according to Ron Berger, chairman of Rentrak, a Portland, Ore., distributor.

If business is off in April and May, the retailer has less cash for June vids, though those are essential to survival, per Rob Thomas, prez of Movie Shop Super Stores in Longmeadow, Mass.

“The better spaced the major releases are, the better it is for everyone,” Thomas says.

The May schedule does have a few big names – Eastwood, Redford, Cher, Selleck – peppered between the likes of “Popcorn” and “Graveyard Shift.” But Warners’ “The Rookie” and Universal’s “Havana” bombed. Orion’s “Mermaids” achieved modest theatrical success. Disney’s “Three Men And A Little Lady” is the only May heavy-hitter.

Meanwhile, the June releases match up against May the way the 1927 Yankees would to the current squad. In addition to commercial successes like “Kindergarten Cop” and “Edward Scissorhands,” June’s roster sounds like the Oscar roll call: “Reversal Of Fortune,” “Goodfellas,” “The Grifters,” “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge,” and “Postcards From The Edge.”

Studio execs say June releases maximize both a film’s theatrical run and its summer vid rental potential.

But retailers are crying uncle over the schedule. “I have a feeling the studios don’t pay as much attention to our calendar as to their calendar,” Thomas says.

Rentrak, which lets a retailer have videos for $8 a unit and then shares in the revenue, will benefit from a summer in which retailers can’t afford to pay $90 a unit for so many major titles.

But Berger is concerned about how the trend affects the industry. “The first thing that suffers is the secondary titles,” he says. “There are only so many dollars out there.” Rentrak generally has 30% to 40% of all new releases and will have about half of June’s top selections.

Things look even bleaker to Damon Ferguson, manager of Movie Time Video in Salem, Va., who says retailers will have to cut back on the number of units for each A title as well as reduce the secondary titles.

So June releases like “Metropolitan,” “The Long Walk Home” and other independently made titles are likely to suffer along with the retailers as the trend steepens.

Retailers may be mad as hell, but suppliers say they’ll continue to take it, since they’re forced to meet consumer demand for the hit titles. “There has been this speculation in the press and in the industry before,” says one exec of glutted vid markets. “People ask ‘Will they order?’ and the answer is ‘Absolutely.’ “

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