Taking a major step toward supporting DVD, Steven Spielberg has decided to release “Saving Private Ryan” on the digital video format in November, only two years after its bow. “Ryan” becomes the first Spielberg blockbuster to make the transition.

DreamWorks Home Entertainment said Monday it will release the DVD on the same day as the “special limited edition” sell-through VHS of the pic on Nov. 2. The VHS edition had already been skedded (Daily Variety, July 29).

Although it is not Spielberg’s first bow on DVD — “The Color Purple,” “Amistad” and “1941” have all made the transition — the move does mark the first time he has released any of his big B.O. performers on DVD.

Waiting game

Spielberg reportedly had been waiting for DVD players to enter more homes before releasing his major pics on the format. More than 4 million DVD players are projected to reach homes by the end of the year, up from 2 million at the end of 1998, according to the DVD Video Group, a Los Angeles-based industry trade group. Some analysts predict even stronger demand, with up to 5 million players in homes by the New Year.

Spielberg’s move could now open the floodgates, with more of Spielberg’s hits to bow on DVD, sooner than expected. DreamWorks execs, however, said no plans were being made on his other titles, as of yet.

DreamWorks has previously released “The Peacemaker,” “Small Soldiers,” “Mouse Hunt” and “The Prince of Egypt” on DVD.

Until recently, Spielberg, George Lucas and Disney were taking a wait and see approach to DVD, opting not to release their major titles on the format. Disney, however, said it will begin releasing its animated titles on DVD beginning in October.

Consumer demand

The DreamWorks studio division said consumer demand, plus the growing market penetration of DVD players, fueled the decision to release “Ryan” on DVD.

“We’re seeing more penetration of DVD with consumers,” said Kelly Avery, head of DreamWorks Worldwide Home Video and Retail Entertainment. “‘Saving Private Ryan’ is a film that people want to own and have in their collection. We are confident that both formats are destined to be one of the biggest sellers of the fourth quarter.”

DreamWorks will push both the DVD and VHS releases with a multimillion dollar marketing campaign. It had already planned the campaign, but is now pumping more marketing dollars to push the DVD.

Holiday hopes

DreamWorks expects the epic World War II drama to easily top the 1 million unit sales during the holiday period, making it strong competition against DVDs for U’s “The Mummy,” Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix,” New Line’s “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” Par’s “Titanic” and Disney’s animated titles.

The DVD will feature a message from Spielberg regarding the significance of D-Day and the National D-Day Museum, as well as an exclusive half-hour behind-the-scenes featurette, trailers and cast bios.

The DVD’s retail price will hover around the $24.99 mark, the same price as the VHS edition.

“Ryan” has raked in $44 million since its release as a video rental on Memorial Day. It became the most successful rental debut ever, raking in $9.6 million in its first week, according to VidTrac. The pic earned $216 million at the domestic B.O.

Pic won five Oscars, including best director and best cinematography.

DreamWorks is only handling domestic release of the DVD, with Paramount, which co-produced the pic, handling overseas duties. 20th Century Fox and Par had a similar pact with “Titanic.”