Many critics found in "Dick Tracy" symptoms of a basic identity problem, evidenced by the picture's attempts to sell itself as both children's summer entertainment and glossy adult satire. This December, "Dick Tracy" arrives on the video market with its personality split yet again, this time between the video rental and sales markets, in which Touchstone Home Video hopes to position the "Tracy" video in one fell marketing swoop as "the video rental event of the year and 1991's first sell-through phenomenon."
Although its $107 million box office take indicates that "Tracy's" initial personality problems may have either paid off or been overcome, it will be late winter at the earliest before the Disney marketeers' video efforts can be deemed a failure or success. From the looks of their innovative plans, however, it seems that the folks at Touchstone may have come up with new solutions to several industry problems that could make both video retailers and consumers happy this December.
Touchstone will release the tape one week before Christmas priced at $92.95 -- a timetable that Disney is confident will make "Dick Tracy" the video of choice whenever the VCR is pressed into service at holiday get-togethers. The price is good news for retailers, who had worried that a rumored $100 price for "Tracy" would set off another round of price hikes throughout the industry. Even better news for retailers is Touchstone's plan for helping them sell their previously viewed rental copies after rental demand has peaked -- probably 60 to 90 days after the release. Touchstone has promised to help retailers defray advertising expenses for their efforts to sell used tapes for six months after the picture's release -- including an unprecedented $3 rebate direct from Touchstone for consumers who buy used tapes from participating dealers.
That's good news for traditional video store retailers, who will be able to offer one of the top hits of 1990 on low-priced cassettes without worrying about the competition from discount mass merchandisers who aren't in the rental business and won't have any used tapes to sell. But the big winner is most likely the consumer. If all goes according to plan, rental copies of "Dick Tracy" should be very easy to find come December; retailers will be stocking up on extra copies with the knowledge that they'll have help selling them off later. And since Disney is not officially reissuing the title, it can't affix a retail price to the used copies; that honor falls to the retailers, who can price the used tapes as low as they like, which should initiate some retailer price-warring that bargain hunters will appreciate.
The big question is whether consumers will, on a large scale, warm up to the idea of buying used videocassettes, which have long been the best bargains in the business -- as well as the best-kept secret. If enough consumers can get over their squeamishness about buying tapes that have been in strangers' VCRs, then retailers will be able to load up on their rental copies with confidence. That would cheer renters, buyers, dealers and studio executives -- and earn "Dick Tracy" a place in the industry history books that even Warren Beatty couldn't have predicted.
Stop This Crazy Thing The corporate sponsorship sales people at MCA/Universal Home Video must be among the most persuasive in the business. First they talked Pepsi into sponsoring "E.T.," even though Eliot wins the titular extraterrestrial's friendship by offering him a Coke. Then they signed the U.S. Postal Service on for the prehistoric animated adventure "The Land Before Time" when some might have thought that dinosaurs were the last things with which the post office would want to be associated. Now they have persuaded AT&T to help promote a movie whose central character's relationship with things high-tech is ambivalent at best, in a world where the picture-phone call is typically more intrusive than welcome. Maybe they just want to remind us that whatever our gripes with the phone company, at least we don't have to worry about answering the phone in curlers. Whatever the motivation, a video purchaser can get a $3 AT&T gift certificate for buying a copy of "The Jetsons," which reaches stores next week priced at $22.95. An Ad Is an Ad Is an Ad So much for "a word from our sponsor." In the ongoing effort to hide the fact that more and more tapes are carrying commercials, at least one video supplier has found its way around that dreaded C-word by coming up with another: consumer, as in "consumer message," which is how CBS/Fox describes the ads for Wilson Sporting Goods at the beginning and end of "The Best of U.S. Open Tennis: 1980-1990" (82 minutes, $19.95, due in stores next week). As Wilson is the official supplier of the U.S. Open's most vital equipment, those consumers who miss their message -- and the Wilson logo on the cover -- can just keep their eye on the ball.