‘Titanic’ vid orders are titanic

Par sets up street date violation hotline

Leading retailers across different channels — including Blockbuster Video, Best Buy, Reel.com and cable’s QVC — are reporting record consumer pre-orders for “Titanic” and are gearing up for the title’s Sept. 1 street date.

Paramount Home Video is in the process of shipping more than 20 million copies of the double-cassette title to major retail chains and distributors.

Both Best Buy and Blockbuster, for example, will open their stores at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 1 for consumers who just can’t wait to own the box office record-setter.

At the same time, the studio, distributors and retailers are standing ready to deal with any early retail sales of the biggest box office hit of all time.

Some independent retailers, like Richard Kueber of two-store Video Vault in Radcliff, Ky., feel squeezed by their larger competitors and threaten to fight fire with fire.

“If we find one copy out there on a shelf before street date, we’re breaking it ourselves,” said the retailer, who already has presold 1,600 copies.

Fairness in question

Kueber, like most small retailers, won’t get a “Titanic” shipment from his distributor before Friday, although many larger operations, including Blockbuster Video stores in his area, already have their “Titanic” stock.

Paramount has taken strong steps to prevent early sales, even at bookstores, convenience stores and other places that don’t normally sell video and are unfamiliar with the street date concept. It has set up two toll-free telephone numbers (U.S. (800) 291-0951 and Canada (888) 216-2244) that retailers can call to report any street date violations.

For early-bird pre-orders, meanwhile, Best Buy customers who pay a $5 deposit to reserve a copy of the tape get a “Titanic” lapel pin featuring stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet embracing on the ship’s bow, and a certificate to claim the tape Sept. 1. It’s pricing “Titanic” at the $19.95 minimum advertised price.

Block party

Many Blockbuster stores also will reopen at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 1 for a two-hour “Bon Voyage” party complete with live radio promotions and a consumer sweepstakes to win a free cruise or a theme park vacation. Blockbuster is pricing the title at $24.99. Customers who pay a $5 deposit can receive a double-sided print that carries a picture of DiCaprio and Winslet on one side and a solo portrait of DiCaprio on the other.

About half of Musicland Stores’ Media Play and On Cue stores will also sell “Titanic” at 12:01 a.m. on street date. All its stores are taking preorders with a $5 deposit.

Among other activities:

  • Hollywood Video is selling “Titanic” for $24.99. Customers who preorder pay full price up front and receive a booklet with 10 rental coupons valued at $1.50 each. Hollywood is also preselling previously viewed copies of “Titanic” for $9.99, available in mid-October.

  • West Coast Video is pricing “Titanic” at $24.99. Preorder customers pay $5 down and receive a booklet with 12 rent-one-video/get-one-free coupons.

  • The indie Video Vault, is selling “Titanic” for $24.95. Customers who preorder receive two free rentals valued at $3 each.

  • On-line retailer VideoServe.com is taking pre-orders, but selling the title for $20.99. The first 1,000 customers to reserve a copy will receive Bridgestone Multimedia’s documentary “Search for the Titanic,” narrated by Orson Welles and valued at $9.99.

  • QVC, the cable shopping network, has pre-booked more than 220,000 orders for “Titanic.” The service is authorized to play segments of the feature film and has used that to sell additional memorabilia.

Early penalties

As for potential date-breakers and penalties, distributors feel squeezed between the studio and the retailers, because when one of their customers breaks street date, the studio penalizes the distributor most directly by delaying future shipments.

“Paramount needs to tell the retailers that they will be held personally accountable for violations,” one distribution executive said. “They need to spell out exactly what those penalties will be. Taking away any and all co-op advertising from retail violators would be a good start.”

(Betsy Scala and Wendy Wilson contributed to this report, which appears in the current issue of Video Business.)

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