Video industry executives call it "the depth of copy problem," but you know it as the familiar frustration of getting to the video store too late to rent a copy of this week's blockbuster. Citing this consumer frustration as the most serious problem facing the video business, CBS/Fox Video has unveiled a test program to encourage video retailers to buy more copies of hit movies.
The experiment involves the Arnold Schwarzenegger hit "Predator." Retailers will be able to stock the movie during the last two weeks of January if they purchase the video in packages of two copies, which will be sold at a discounted rate; those who want only one copy -- usually 20 to 25 percent of video stores, according to CBS/Fox -- will have to wait until Feb. 1, when single-copy packages will go on sale at the standard $89.95 rate. The idea is that more stores will buy more copies -- and more people will be able to rent it when they want it.
CBS/Fox chief executive James Fifield worries that the depth of copy situation is getting worse, pointing out that sales of blockbuster video titles are holding steady even as the number of VCR households increases, meaning that there are more people going after the same number of tapes. When people become tired of not getting what they want, he suggests, they might just stop renting movies. "We're very conscious of the prospect of the rental market leveling off in 1988," warns Fifield. "If we don't change the way we do business, it will be flat for the next couple of years."
He hopes that, if his company's plan works, other studios will follow suit. They have certainly followed CBS/Fox's lead before -- most notably last year, when the company was the first to raise prices on its biggest titles to $89.95, a move that has certainly discouraged retailers from buying those extra copies this year.
A minor piece of film history comes to home video this week, rescued from years of studio limbo. Robert Altman's "O.C. & Stiggs" was completed more than three years ago, but MGM thought it was so bad that the studio kept a lid on it until this summer, when it was given a brief run. Today it arrives in video stores, where it may seem quite at home: Its plot involves two suburban high schoolers (based on characters from National Lampoon) on a mission to have "the most monstrous, mind-roasting summer vacation in history." The film will be of particular interest to Altman fans, who will now get a chance to see one of the last films written and directed by the man responsible for such classics as "M*A*S*H" and "Nashville."
"Outrageous Fortune" comes to video next week with a little something extra: a 75-second public service message, placed right before the feature, in which the film's costar Bette Midler tells viewers to stay away from crack. The trailer is the work of the Motion Picture Association of America, which has developed a series of celebrity antidrug warnings aimed at young audiences; "Outrageous Fortune," which comes from Disney's Touchstone division, is the first video to feature one of them. Other spots, all of which were directed by Ridley Scott of "Alien" and "Blade Runner" fame, feature Pee-wee Herman, Rosanna Arquette, Olivia Newton-John and Nancy Reagan.
November is "sweeps" time on television -- the time of year when the networks try to outdazzle each other with an avalanche of lavish, star-studded mini-series. This week, the spirit of the season extends to the video store, where two Ghosts of Sweeps Past are due to arrive: "Little Gloria ... Happy at Last" and "Mistral's Daughter." Clocking in at a mere three hours, "Little Gloria" may rank as a mini-mini, but the cast of this true-life story of the 1934 custody battle over Gloria Vanderbilt -- Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Maureen Stapleton and Christopher Plummer, among others -- towers over any of this season's offerings. Spanning six decades in the fashion world, the dramatization of Judith Krantz's "Mistral's Daughter" offers 6 1/2 hours of Stefanie Powers, Lee Remick and a wardrobe of thousands. All this, and no commercials.