‘Titanic’ steams ahead to Sept. homevid bow

Sources say megapic skedded for Sept. 9 release

HOLLYWOOD — “Titanic” conquered the theatrical box office and owns the music industry’s best-selling soundtrack. Now the pic is set to sink the competition when it is released on homevideo.

Paramount Home Video execs and the film’s director, James Cameron, are expected to announce today that the $1.7 billion-grossing pic will be released on homevideo Sept. 9, according to sources, in a move that will give the eagerly awaited vid a jump on the potent holiday sales season.

The announcement will be made in an elaborate presentation during an early morning press conference held on the studio’s Melrose Avenue lot and also attended by 20th Century Fox execs. (Paramount will market the vid domestically, while 20th will handle the overseas vid release under the terms of their joint-production and distribution agreement.)

The selection of the September window — and not a post-Halloween release date typically favored for most theatrical success stories — also practically assures the studio that the “Titanic” vid will be the dominant player in the field.

The video release, which comes nine months after the pic’s theatrical bow, will be backed with the studio’s largest marketing campaign.

Video retail execs surveyed suggested that even without a comprehensive marketing campaign, more than 20 million units of the “Titanic” vid could cross domestic retail registers, with most of the video sales coming during the fourth and first quarters, the industry’s biggest selling periods. Nearly 70% of the industry’s annual sales are made during those six months. The bestselling live-action vid to date is Fox Videos’ “Independence Day” at 18 million units.

In addition to adding another $500 million to the studios’ coffers — the pic earned another $1.6 million at the domestic box office this weekend — the 20 million unit tally would make it the industry’s bestselling live-action film and a strong rival of animated fare.

Retailers are also expecting the vid bow to help boost sales of other titles. Consumers heading to the video store often purchase or rent two or three videos in addition to the one they sought.

Unlike the studio’s previous box office bonanza “Forrest Gump,” where the vid release was not backed by high-profile tie-ins, Par execs have lined up several promotional partners to help herald the arrival of “Titanic.”

Studio execs were also toying with the idea of widely re-releasing the pic in August to whet consumers’ appetite for the video release, but the film may have sufficient legs to make such a move unnecessary.

Although studios such as Universal and Columbia TriStar this year are testing the August and September retail environments by putting out more releases during the period than in the past, the new release video cupboard during the summer is mostly bare and would give “Titanic” a wide berth at retail.

Sales of homevideos and albums typically decline during the late summer months due to both a lack of interest among consumers and a dearth of top-notch titles to spur sales.