Events can top off at $1 mil

Homevid parties have gone into disc drive.

Eager to generate boffo buzz — and sales — for their releases, studios are pulling out all the stops on star-studded events and stunts that would make movie huckster impresario William Castle proud.

While homevid launch parties are nothing new, the frequency and coin expended have cranked up tremendously in the past year, as the lucrative DVD format passed videocassettes for good.

Event budgets that might have topped out at $40,000 in the VHS era now go as high as $1 million, with several falling in the $250,000 to $500,000 range, according to Paradigm Shift Worldwide Event Marketing prexy Dan Kough, who began throwing homevid launch parties at Disney 10 years ago.

Consumer focus

He recently taught Jennifer Aniston how to sashay down the catwalk for Miramax’s “Chicago” fashion show benefit and pulled off two Puerto Rico launch parties in one day for Universal’s “Scarface” and “2 Fast 2 Furious” disc releases. He says his budgets have increased 50% over the past two years.

“DVD is such a popular format, so now studios are starting to treat it like theatrical,” Kough says.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment exec marketing veepee Lexine Wong attributes the sharp uptick in events to DVD marketing’s consumer focus; in the VHS era, marketing had a retail focus because most videocassettes tended to be rental priced on their original release.

“With DVD you are really trying to drive impact for a huge selloff in the first week because that’s important to keep shelf space at retail,” Wong says.

DreamWorks hosted the first big DVD preem parties for “Gladiator” in 2000, and since then the events have become much more frequent, though DreamWorks homevid head Kelley Avery cautions it can’t be done for every movie. The same studio dressed chimpanzees in formal attire for a “Tuxedo” fashion show for its launch party. The event really is tailored to an individual movie, Avery says.

“For certain movies the right thing to do is to have a huge event,” says Fox homevid senior veep marketing and communications Steve Feldstein, a Disney homevid vet who stresses the need for creativity in marketing a movie the second time around after theatrical. A party is one way to get an added layer of publicity and a stunt is another — especially if it’s silly, like a flock of penguins for an “Ice Age” launch.

Along those lines, Universal staged an “Animal House” reunion parade complete with mock food fight and Otis Day singing “Shout” in August.

Eventizing

Universal, which has been very aggressive on the DVD launch-party circuit of late, got considerably more lavish for its “Scarface” anniversary bash at Gotham’s Metropolitan club, which Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer attended last month. That was followed just up days later by separate events in Puerto Rico for “Scarface” and “2 Fast 2 Furious.” And earlier in the year, Universal also coaxed Eminem into performing his Academy Award-winning “Lose Yourself” at the “8 Mile” launch party in Detroit shortly after he’d snubbed the Oscars.

Meanwhile, Disney — a veteran of the homevid party scene dating back to the heyday of VHS and still one of its bigger players — enticed Elton John to perform at its “Lion King” DVD bash Oct. 3 at El Capitan.

Also this month, Warner Home Video launched “Matrix Reloaded” with a bash at Morton’s featuring stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and producer Joel Silver.

Sony’s vid division has been known to choose symbolic venues for its stunts; last year, it rang the closing bell on the New York Stock Exchange for a “Men in Black II” event intended to remind investors about DVD’s success.

Some homevid execs pin the scale of the party to the sales potential of a particular title, but others question the need for quite as many blowout bashes.

“The ultimate reason to throw a party is publicity,” Feldstein says. “The reason to throw a monster party for monster party’s sake is ego.”

Regardless of the size, the goal is greater consumer awareness for studio releases during the crucial first week in stores, Avery points out. “There’s a lot of pressure on the studio to deliver sales on homevideo.”

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