DVDs booming amid B.O. bobble

Many underperformers have become homevid hits

Video is saving the film biz.

While box office was down 4.6% in the first half of 2003, consumer spending on the purchase and rental of DVDs alone climbed a staggering 61.8%. Overall revenue reached a first-half record $10.2 billion.

Among the top 30 homevideo titles in the first half of the year, a full 20 outperformed their theatrical originators. A handful of box office underperformers and disappointments even became outright hits on homevid, with some doubling their take at the B.O.

Disney’s “Treasure Planet,” for example, took in $38 million in an underwhelming theatrical run last fall but collected $64 million on homevid.

Paramount’s “Jackass the Movie” was a theatrical breakout with $64 million but generated a whopping $96 million with homevid renters and buyers. And Fox’s “One Hour Photo” did more than double its domestic B.O., posting $31 million in theaters and $72 million on homevideo.

Box office remains down about 3% this summer to date, but the homevideo industry continues to motor in the other direction, with Warner Bros. and Disney maintaining their stranglehold on the top spots in market share.

Overall, consumer spending on the purchase and rental of DVDs and videocassettes in the first half of 2003 rose a hefty 16%, according to research published this week by Daily Variety sister publication Video Business.

The top 11 titles generated at least $100 million in purchase and rental fees (three collected more than $200 million each), matching the number of theatrical releases that generated that level of spending through June.

Consumers are spending more dollars purchasing movies on homevideo than ever before — $5.85 billion ($4.8 billion on DVD alone) — but it is not coming at the expense of rental activity.

Revenue from rental fees for DVDs and videocassettes was up 3.5% to $4.35 billion after several years of stagnation.

DVD took a slight edge in the rental market for the first time in the first six months of the year, making $2.22 billion compared with $2.12 billion for VHS rentals.

From major to minor theatrical films to new and old TV series and catalog product, just about everything seems to be selling and renting on DVD, creating the rare situation in which every studio has something to crow about.

Cashing in on the magic of “Harry Potter,” Warner captured 21% of the overall market with $2.14 billion. Even while Warner Home Video waits to distribute the next “Lord of the Rings” from sister company New Line, another of its siblings, HBO, stepped up with “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and $232 million in vid revs for Warner to pair with its own $237 million from the No. 1 title, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

Warner’s situation will likely only improve in the second half of the year with a DVD release slate that includes “The Matrix Reloaded,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and many more classics in its massive library.

Even without a single major traditional Disney family title in the top 25, the Mouse House maintained its strong No. 2 position with product as diverse as “Signs,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “The Recruit.”

The Mouse’s situation, too, will only get better with upcoming releases of “Chicago,” “Bringing Down the House,” “Gangs of New York” and “The Lion King.” Also expected this fall is “Finding Nemo” and, potentially, “The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” in December.

Universal worked its way to No. 3 by deftly marketing “The Bourne Identity” equally to rental and retail, so that the whopping $151 million in revenues was split right down the middle. (It was the top-renting title of the period.)

U also overcame the challenges posed by a short-lived R-rated theatrical hit in “8 Mile” by maximizing first-weekend sales to ultimately generate $130 million in vid revs for the movie, which rang up $117 million in B.O.

Some studios noted how many of their titles sold significantly better than their box office performance would have suggested.

Fox, for instance, with a handful of titles like “The Good Girl” and “The Banger Sisters” that did middling box office in the $15 million-$30 million range, lured consumers to spend more than twice as much for the titles on DVD/VHS.

Fox claims to have the highest percentage of units sold relative to the collective box office grosses of its movies, though nearly every studio had at least one title in the top 30 that also performed disproportionately well.

Columbia’s strategy of releasing “Maid in Manhattan” on DVD just 14weeks after it opened in theaters and the studio’s prediction that this would be the year that women began buying more DVDs both proved solid.

“Maid” exceeded its theatrical haul with nearly $100 million in vid revenue, while competitors’ romantic comedies such as “Greek Wedding,” “Sweet Home” and “Two Weeks Notice” (Warner) each ranked among the top 15.

In addition to its success with “Jackass,” Par also enjoyed continued strong and growing sales of new and catalog TV product, such as “SpongeBob SquarePants” and perennial franchises like “Star Trek.”

Most studios also capitalized on catalog sales, perhaps none more than MGM, which continues to nip at the heels of Warner with its share of the DVD library market.

The Lion pushed two titles into the top 12 overall, including the unlikely No. 10 title “Barbershop,” which exceeded its surprise theatrical receipts of $76 million with $102 million on video, and the most recent 007 entry, last year’s “Die Another Day.”

Meanwhile, DreamWorks, which had an unusually large number of titles to work with in the period, enjoyed an 88% surge in rental market share and a nearly 60% increase in its share of overall sales by pushing two titles into the top 10 (“The Ring,” “Catch Me if You Can”), four into the top 20 (“Road to Perdition,” “Old School”) and five in the top 25 (“Minority Report”).

(Jennifer Netherby is a reporter for Variety sister publication Video Business.)