Iceland was made for homevideo, considering it’s an island that’s dark and cold outside for six months of the year.
That’s as Jon Aegisson sees it, and he ought to know. His father started up the first video shop in the country and Aegisson, now rental sales manager for Sam Film Video Distribution, has worked around cassettes for most of his career.
Despite a general decline in units throughout Europe, both the rental and theatrical markets in Iceland show no signs of a slowdown. In a country where most things cost the earth , a beer, for example, can set you back as much as $6 , homevideo is still a bargain. Rates of $7 for rental of a new release, and $35 to $40 for a sell-through title, compare favorably with mainland Europe.
Aegisson, who also chairs the country’s video rental association, predicts rental could rise by as much as 25% in the next year. There are almost 140 outlets in the Greater Reykjavik area, where more than a third of the population resides.
With its own duplication plant, Sam Film now pushes out some 12-14 titles a month on rental and two to four on sell-through. Last year it released 135 rental titles for a modest 35% market share; this year, the company claims a 50% to 60% slice of the action.
Most of its A-list titles come from distribution contracts inked over the past three years, with labels like FoxVideo, Warner Home Video, Disney and Morgan Creek, with whom Sam Film has exclusive deals, and others like Turner, Spelling and Rysher.
Video rental began to show healthy numbers in Iceland in the mid-’80s when the U.S. majors stepped into the market. Prior to that, says Aegisson, piracy was rampant.
“Many people would simply fly over to the U.K., buy up the latest, and duplicate them,” recalls Aegisson. “The long wait for theatrical contributed to the problem, because people would go abroad and bring back copies.
“For a feature, the video window abroad was shorter than the waiting time here for theatrical , often more than two years.”
While some mom-and-pop vidderies are biting the dust in the face of bigger outlets, Aegisson shrugs off concern that rental could be cannibalized by sell-through. The two markets are not always in competition with each other, he says.
“Children go to the movies here to see ‘The Lion King,’ and then they want to rent it, maybe as much as two or three times. Later, they want to buy it.”
Sell-through took off in Iceland in May 1993, with the Sam Film-distribbed “Beauty and the Beast,” says the company’s sell-through manager Eythor Gudjonsson.
Unlike most everyone else who works for the company, Gudjonsson has little background in video or exhibition. But he does have experience in theatrics and marketing. Prior to Sam Film, he headed an outfit called Good Jump which combed the island urging folk to leap from a giant scaffolding crane while trussed up with bungy cords.
Now he dares locals to plunk down anything from $35 to $40 for a title in a market he predicts is set to skyrocket. “Sell-through is still very young in Iceland, but it’s growing fast,” says Gudjonsson. “Between 1993 and 1994, there was a 100% increase in the market. That trend will continue.”
Sam Film released only about 10 of the 30-40 titles to sell-through last year. Most are directed at Icelandic tykes, with “Aladdin” so far selling more than 10,000 units in the 150,000 population Greater Reykjavik area. However, the company has recently started to move adult titles such as “The Fugitive.”
Marketing of both rental and sell-through is a savvy blend of local market knowledge, mixed media packaging, and a heavy dose of international expertise.
“We get a lot of ideas from Walt Disney,” admits Gudjonsson. “With Aristocats,’ one week before and two weeks afterward we had a coordinated television, radio and newspaper campaign.” The company also promoted heavily at Kringlan, Iceland’s only mall.
Talks are also in progress over a possible licensing deal with Buena Vista for mail order. “One of our biggest competitors in sell-through is (private TV station) Channel 2, which gets rights to a lot of titles, then later puts them out as mail order videos,” says Gudjonsson.
“It’s had some success, because it’s such an easy way to buy. All you have to do is pick up the phone and dial.”
On the rental side, Sam Film puts out a monthly newsletter; the company also publishes the monthly magazine Video Titles (Myndbond), which claims a circulation of 40,000.
The company also invests heavily in postering and merchandising give-aways. “Icelanders love pins, hats, T-shirts… all that stuff,” says Aegisson. “Our problem is that the majors don’t make enough available.”