What are you doing two weeks from next Tuesday? Or, more to the point, what are you watching? Most of us don't plan our lives around movie rentals, but a growing number of home video companies are trying to change that. Last week both Paramount and Disney's Touchstone division joined other studios in unveiling plans to spend unprecedented sums on television ads that encourage consumers to make reservations for their video rentals weeks in advance -- usually before the movies are even available on tape.
The campaigns reflect another attempt by the studios to get more copies of hit movies into each video store; ideally, so many customers will see the ads and reserve tapes that video dealers will buy more copies to accommodate the demand.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way, and the ads are being met with increasing resentment among some video dealers and customers. Such campaigns "use television to force distribution," says Erol's Video Club Vice President Ron Castell. Especially unpopular are the ads that don't specify the date the advertised tape is going to be available, which can lead consumers into the video store weeks ahead of the release. "People see the ad on TV, and they automatically think it's on tape," says Castell.
To avoid that confusion, the Touchstone and Paramount spots will highlight the release dates of the tapes they promote. Touchstone will spend $2 million early next month to urge viewers "not to wait until March 15" to tell their video dealers they want to rent "Stakeout," the Richard Dreyfuss comedy-thriller that topped the box-office list for a few weeks last summer. Paramount has budgeted $10 million for a campaign that will include prerelease ads for six movies over the next eight months: "Beverly Hills Cop II" (a March release), followed by "The Untouchables" (April), "Fatal Attraction" (June), "Raw" (July), "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (August) and "She's Having a Baby" (September), all of which will be priced at $89.95 in VHS, $29.95 in Beta.
The success of these campaigns, however, will depend heavily on their ability to get customers to make reservations in advance, and there are some important factors working against that. First, there's probably a limit to the number of TV viewers who are going to run for the Filofax to scribble down the release date of a video as it flashes by on a commercial. Moreover, many stores -- including Erol's and the Video Place, the Washington area's two largest chains -- do not allow customers to reserve tapes in advance. The reservation system sounds like a good idea, retailers report, but it breaks down whenever a customer fails to check out or return a tape on time. And while retailers welcome the advertising, many feel the studios are avoiding the issue: If they really want to sell more tapes, retailers ask, why don't studios just lower the price?
It used to be that an actor whose career had slowed or stalled could lower his standards for a role in a TV movie that would most likely be forgotten by the time he moved on to something more substantial. Now, however, those TV movies are reappearing on tape. One of this week's rental releases, the 1983 comedy "Sunset Limousine" ($59.95 retail), features three such unfortunate passengers -- John Ritter, Susan Dey and Martin Short -- probably none of whom would be caught dead in such a project today. Maybe it's just renters' morbid curiosity, but there must be a market for tapes like this because they keep coming out.
The Winter Olympics are upon us, "luge" is starting to make its quadrennial appearance in the household parlance and many of us will soon be able to whistle the East German national anthem from memory once again. Paramount Home Video is getting into the Olympic spirit with the first three tapes from the "Olympiad" television series, due in stores next week. "Great Moments at the Winter Games" runs the chilly gamut from Sonja Henie to Dorothy Hamill; "The Immortals" includes Henie and other renowned athletes; and "Those Who Endured" profiles athletes whose gold medals followed repeated attempts in various Olympic villages. The 47-minute tapes are priced at $14.95.
Clip and Save
In case you missed their ads on TV, and you really do want to plan your rentals in advance, here are the scheduled release dates for the month's major rental titles. Feb. 1-4: "No Way Out," "In the Mood," "Jaws -- the Revenge," "He's My Girl." Feb. 9: "Spaceballs: The Video." Feb. 10: "The Monster Squad." Feb. 17: "The Big Easy." Feb. 18: "Nadine," "Revenge of the Nerds II." Feb. 24: "The Lost Boys," "A Man in Love."