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U sees Brit DVD flurry

Studio sees four No.1's over six weeks

DVD sales may be down 4% in the U.K. so far this year, but Universal has bucked the market with a remarkable hot streak.

U had four different No. 1’s in past six weeks — “Pride & Prejudice,” “Nanny McPhee,” “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and “The Constant Gardener.” A fifth U release, “Serenity,” was kept off the top only by the fact that “Wallace and Gromit” stayed at No. 1 in its second week.

“I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and I can’t remember when any company in video, film or music had three No. 1’s in consecutive weeks with three different titles,” says the studio’s U.K. homevid topper, Johnny Fewings.

“Pride & Prejudice” has sold a solid 520,000 units to date. “Nanny McPhee” dramatically outperformed its target with sales of 710,000 so far. “Wallace & Gromit” met expectations with 1.1 million to date, while “Serenity” has surprised with 210,000 units sold.

Most unexpected of all was the No. 1 slot for “The Constant Gardener,” with 78,000 units sold in its first week.

U has claimed a 22.4% share of DVD sales in January and February, with Fox a distant second on 13.5%. Warner is now fighting back with “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” which sold 520,000 units on March 20 alone. Even better figures are predicted for Buena Vista’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” when it comes out March 27. Then U weighs back into the market with “King Kong.”

There’s no doubt the DVD market is still tough. How could it be otherwise when British weekend newspapers gave away a staggering 132 million discs for free last year? But just as the U.K. theatrical biz resisted last year’s global box office downturn, so DVD is still delivering healthy rewards.

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