Full speed ahead for ‘Titanic’ vid

Pic destined for another record

Titanic” has docked: The biggest-grossing movie in history is well on its way to becoming the most successful homevideo ever, as fans across the country stayed up late and waited in line to be among the first owners of the video.

Retailers reported record sales for the video, which went on sale at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday morning in each time zone across the U.S.

Blockbuster Video had pre-sold more than 1 million copies of the film and pre-sold thousands more at most of its 4,000 stores on Monday night. A store in Mesquite, Texas, sold the millionth copy.

Early sales suggest “Titanic” will top homevid record-holder “The Lion King,” which Disney tallied at around 30 million copies. “Jurassic Park” holds the record among live-action videos at 17 million copies sold.

“The overwhelming success of ‘Titanic’ on homevideo is testament to the vibrancy of the homevideo entertainment industry,” said Dean Wilson, Blockbuster’s executive veep of merchandising.

Blockbuster best

“Titanic’s” sales make it the bestselling film ever for Blockbuster, according to Wilson. “And we certainly expect to see the same record-shattering performance in rentals.”

Sales of “Titanic” were also brisk at Musicland stores, with reservations for the video up 150% on its previous record holder, “The Lion King.”

“Customers’ passion for ‘Titanic’ is as strong as ever,” said Marcia Appel, senior veep of corporate advertising, partnership marketing and communications for Musicland.

Internet retailers also benefited from “Titanic” fever, experiencing a much-needed surge in sales as online orders for the video version boosted traffic, and attracted first-time buyers to their Websites.

Online video retailer Reel.com said that, as of Tuesday, it had received over 220,000 pre-sale orders for “Titanic,” with the widescreen edition selling 25% better than the pan-and-scan version.

One of Blockbuster’s chief competitors, Hollywood Video, is in the process of acquiring Reel.com.

While most Internet stores are selling “Titanic” for $19.99, Reel.com is offering the video for $9.99 — a loss of $5 per video — in an attempt to attract more traffic to its Website.

“We’ve been losing money on every single one,” said Reel.com CEO Julie Wainwright, “but our goal with the sale was to attract customers to our site. If we had priced it at $19.99 we wouldn’t have been as successful.”

Savvy ploy

But the loss is minimal, according to Ken Cassar, an analyst with N.Y.-based new media research firm Jupiter Communications’ digital commerce department. “In the end, it took them less than a million dollars to acquire 220,000 new customers,” he said. “By Internet standards (less than $1 million is) a very low number. It was a very clever move on their part.”

Prior to “Titanic,” Reel.com’s biggest seller since its launch in 1997 was “Godzilla vs. King Godora,” with some 800 copies. The site sells about 8,900 different videos a month.

Other leading online retailers such as Amazon.com, Borders.com and CDnow declined to release figures regarding “Titanic” sales.

“But we can say that it’s the bestselling advance order that we’ve ever had in our four years,” said Marlo Zoda, a spokesman for CDnow.

Although Blockbuster Video announced it had sold 1 million copies of “Titanic” in its stores on Tuesday, the company’s online store was not selling the video.

“Titanic” may be the answer some online retailers have been looking for to reverse a period of stagnant sales.

“It’s definitely good for companies like Reel because selling videos is what they do,” said Cassar said. “For companies where selling videos is a peripheral part of their business, it won’t really matter as much.”

Online sales of “Titanic” have attracted more women to the Internet. A survey by CommerceNet/Nielsen Media Research in August reported that 29% of online buyers were women. Reel.com reported that 55% of its “Titanic” buyers were women.

It also revealed that although over 75% of “Titanic” buyers had purchased products online, about 60% of them had never purchased a homevideo on the Internet.

Reel.com will continue selling “Titanic” for $9.99 until the end of September, when the price jumps to $19.99.

Despite its widely publicized release on video, “Titanic” added another $335,704 at the box office over the weekend to its record-setting $600 million North American total.

(Reuters contributed to this story.)

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