War-weary Brits Spark Video-rental Upturn

Audience fatigue with tv coverage of the Persian Gulf war and the release of such hot titles as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Total Recall” appear to have stemmed temporarily a homevid rental slump in Britain.

According to Mike Heap, head of Warner Home Video, the retail trade has reported a 25% rise in rental activity since the war began. “It’s the light at the end of the tunnel,” was how another label’s honcho summed up the current rise in rentals following six months of sharp decline.

“I’m not surprised people have begun to turn their backs on television. In my opinion, most of the saturation coverage [of the war] on tv consists of repeats,” asserts Thomas Hedman of Guild Home Video.

‘Recall’ leads the way

The temporary uplift has been led by Guild’s “Total Recall,” CIC’s “Back To The Future, Part III” and continuing success of “Pretty Woman.” According to Hedman, the Schwarzenegger caper has shipped about 80,000 units, of which 50,000 were sold at a wholesale price of &pounds;60 ($120) while the rest were discounted in so-called bonus unit schemes.

Video distribs believe a generic promo campaign slated to roll later this month will further boost business. Leading labels have agreed to sink &pounds;10 million this year on a series of tv and press ads extolling virtues of homevideo and pushing new releases.

“With hindsight, the campaign has been very well timed,” notes Hedman. Distribs also believe upcoming release of rental items like “Die Hard 2,” “Gremlins II” and “Dick Tracy” will further spur activity.

Britain’s homevid business began to misfire early last year after five years of continuous growth. Factors most frequently cited for the decline are: unusually warm weather (a killer for the vid industry), summer’s soccer World Cup, lack of top-grade titles and the general economic downturn.

Hurt by movie channels

The rental trade also was battered by last year’s multi-million pound marketing campaigns rival satellite services Sky and BSB (prior to their merger) and a heavyweight counter push commercial web ITV for its fall movie lineup.

According to Derek Mann of the Video Traders Assn., rental activity over the past six months fell 25% compared to the previous year (representing a 33% decline in real terms). The VTA claims 700 stores have shuttered in the past year (out of a total of 5,500).

Mann argues the vid industry’s previous failure to invest in creating consumer awareness is one explanation for its current woes. “We have been very slow to react to competitive pressures [such as satellite tv]. Historically, we have spent less than other industries on promotion.” He says the upcoming generic ad campaign was long overdue.

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