Alphabet eyes vidbiz options

'Merlin's' success gets ABC interested

After NBC’s success selling home videocassettes of its “Merlin” miniseries in 800-number spots after the special, Charles Hirschhorn, president of Walt Disney Television, is pushing ABC to sell homevideos of “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

NBC was overjoyed when its 800-number spots drove sales of more than 100,000 videos of “Merlin,” but Hirschhorn believes that some of the titles his division produces for “The Wonderful World of Disney” could sell multiples of “Merlin’s” numbers.

Answer pending

ABC is expected to make a decision about whether or not to begin selling videos of its movies on air by the end of the week.

Hirschhorn has been an advocate of hawking the homevideos on air for some time, but ABC has been reluctant. The network fears the 800-number ads will give ABC a cheesy, home shopping network appearance.

However, in an era where network profits are slim at best, additional revenue from ancillary businesses such as homevideo look much more attractive than in the past.

While NBC jubilance about its “Merlin” success raised the profile of selling videos on the broadcast networks, the concept is not new.

Earlier tests

Fox has experimented with the idea by selling tapes of specials such as “Breaking the Magicians Code: The Secrets of Magic Revealed.” Fox’s Tuesday premiere of part three in the magic special will include a spot pitching homevideo versions of the show.

CBS regularly sells homevideos, and promotes on-air for them. Ken Ross, VP of CBS consumer products said that the best-selling titles are nonfiction specials such as “500 Nations” and “Cronkite Remembers.”

CBS has also found success with “Dallas” and “Waltons” reunion specials and sports shows like ice skating events and NCAA Basketball Championship highlights.

Success stories

Ross declined to reveal specific sales numbers for his division’s homevideo sales other to say that the successful ones were in the “tens of thousands.” Ross said he was surprised at all the hoopla surrounding NBC’s sales effort for “Merlin.”

“I was happy to see how much visibility ‘Merlin’ got, but it’s not an innovation by any stretch,” said Ross.

Ross added that the on-air sales success of “Merlin” would be hard for any network to duplicate on a regular basis.

Taking stock

“That was a big-event movie with a very large budget and a very large promotional plan behind it,” said Ross. “Just like in any type of direct marketing, there are some winners and lots of losers. It’s like the stock market: People tell you about their winners and not about their losers.”

While Ross said that the video business has become an important, albeit small, revenue stream, he’s very mindful not to place too many 800-number sales spots on the network.

“While we are looking for ways to create new revenues, we aren’t interesting in turning the network into QVC,” he said.

Hirschhorn argued that because cable networks such as A&E and Discovery Channel jam plenty of 800-number homevideo sales spots at the end of their telecasts, viewers are far less likely to react adversely if the broadcast networks run a tasteful few spots.