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An Ever-Shorter Leap From Theater to DVD

By Jen Chaney
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page N03

"I'll wait for the DVD."

It's the discriminating moviegoer's mantra, one repeated every time we can't muster the motivation to catch the latest Hollywood offering in theaters. But in many cases that waiting game has changed, as movies make the leap from silver screen to small screen faster than ever before.

These days the turnaround time from cineplex to DVD is 4 1/2 months, on average, with movies becoming available for rental and sale on the same day. A few recent films made the trip in fewer than 90 days. (Five years ago, the typical Hollywood flick didn't show up on home video for at least six months.) It's no secret that movie studios, which generally earn more money from home video than box office returns, are eager to capitalize on DVD dollars as soon as they can.

"The Incredibles" will be available on DVD Tuesday, just four months after the Oscar winner landed on the big screen. (Disney)

_____THE DVD DASH_____

A look at how fast some films sprint from theaters to video stores:

"Surviving Christmas"

Theatrical Debut: Oct. 22

DVD Debut: Dec. 21

Elapsed Time: 60 days


Theatrical Debut: Jan. 15

DVD Debut: April 5

Elapsed Time: 80 days


Theatrical Debut: Oct. 29

DVD Debut: Feb. 1

Elapsed Time: 95 days

"Fahrenheit 9/11"

Theatrical Debut: June 25

DVD Debut: Oct. 5

Elapsed Time: 102 days

"Friday Night Lights"

Theatrical Debut: Oct. 8

DVD Debut: Jan. 18

Elapsed Time: 102 days

-- Compiled by Jen Chaney

Judith McCourt, director of market research for the trade publication Home Media Retailing, says even blockbusters now arrive on home video more quickly, noting that the release-date window for $100 million-plus earners has shrunk by 12 percent compared with 2004.

Studios benefit from the quick turnaround, notes a recent article in Home Media Retailing, because consumers still have those movies on their minds and the marketing and advertising for home video releases can ride the coattails of the theatrical campaigns.

That's why "The Incredibles," which debuted in theaters Nov. 5, lands on DVD this Tuesday (and not long after winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature). And why another Oscar winner, "Ray," sang its way onto DVD on Feb. 1, a little more than three months after its Oct. 29 theatrical opening.

Box office flops often turn around even faster. Jennifer Garner's comic book adventure "Elektra," which has earned a paltry $24.2 million in theaters since its Jan. 15 opening, hopes to rebound with a quick April 5 DVD release. And "Fat Albert," which had its theatrical release Christmas Day, will be available to rent or buy March 22, just five days before Easter.

Sometimes the stepped-up timing has to do with outside factors.

"Not only do we compete with new releases for DVD street dates, we're competing with big-event TV programming like 'Seinfeld' and big reissues like 'Star Wars,' " says Ben Feingold, president of Sony Home Entertainment, which last year released more films on DVD more quickly than any other studio, according to Home Media Retailing. Movies also don't stay in theaters as long as they used to, say, even a decade ago, which means they are more likely to show up sooner at a Blockbuster or Best Buy, Feingold adds. "If films are no longer in theaters, then it's probably not a bad idea to have them available for people to buy while they're still relatively fresh in people's minds," he says. "Then again, it's really about the best date."

That's why "Ray" arrived on DVD in time to take advantage of awards-season hype even though the Ray Charles biopic was still showing in hundreds of theaters nationwide. Similarly, a flood of "Ray's" fellow nominees will saturate the market in coming weeks -- among them "Being Julia" (March 22); "Closer" and "Vera Drake" (March 29); "Sideways" (April 5); and "Hotel Rwanda" (April 12) -- in an attempt to capitalize on the final echoes of Academy Awards buzz.

"Anything that puts and keeps the film in the public consciousness is a business factor," confirms Steve Feldstein, senior vice president of Fox Home Entertainment, the studio behind "Sideways," "Elektra" and "Fat Albert."

Universal's "Friday Night Lights" showed up on DVD Jan. 18, a little more than three months after its theatrical debut, which just happened to coincide with the run-up to the Super Bowl. And "Surviving Christmas" -- a lump of comedic coal starring Ben Affleck -- distinguished itself as 2004's fastest DVD debut, appearing Dec. 21, just 60 days after bombing in theaters, to take advantage of holiday cheer-goggling consumers. So does this mean we can expect to see "Spider-Man 3" on DVD the day after it opens? Probably not. Feingold says the industry is unlikely to churn out releases much faster than it already does.

In other words, the wait isn't over just yet.

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