The Material Girl is about to have an impact on video formats. On the heels of a sold-out tour, a No. 1 single and a taped "live" concert broadcast that attracted one of Home Box Office's largest audiences ever, the inevitable concert video of Madonna's recent "Blonde Ambition" tour ranks as one of the most eagerly awaited music videos of the year. But VCR owners are going to have to keep waiting: When "Madonna: Blonde Ambition" is released next month, it will be available exclusively in the videodisc format. And there it will remain for some time -- the program's one-year exclusivity on disc guarantees that VCR voguers won't have a chance to view Madonna's latest incarnation on cassette until December 1991 at the earliest -- by which time her current coif and choreography will doubtless have been replaced by an entirely new look.
The one-year disc exclusivity may amount to a small step for the format girl, but it's a giant step forward for the laser disc business. While some movies and music video programs are released simultaneously on the videodisc and cassette formats, most disc releases are delayed until several months after the cassette's initial appearance. Some never make the move to disc at all: The current rental hit "Rocky Horror Picture Show" is being withheld from the videodisc market because of the ease with which illegal high-quality cassette copies can be made from discs, even on home equipment. Madonna's one-year disc brake on the cassette release is an unprecedented opportunity for the manufacturers of laser discs and disc players, who have been looking for some way to draw more attention to the sound- and image-quality advantages that discs offer over cassettes.
Credit for lining up Madonna goes to entertainment-technology giant Pioneer, whose music videodisc label Pioneer Artists will release the 120-minute set, priced at $29.95, in time for Christmas. Pioneer got the inside track on the release a while back when it signed on as a corporate sponsor for the "Blonde Ambition" tour. Now it stands to gain the most from the tour's video release. Its aggressive ad campaign for the Pioneer laser disc player has already brought the format more visibility than ever before; when it adds Madonna to the mix in ads in the coming weeks, Pioneer hopes to expand its reach beyond the primarily male, high-end customers who have already bitten the disc bait to embrace the millions of Madonna wanna-watchers whose parents are still looking for a new home entertainment toy for the holidays.
What's in a label? The folks at Pacific Arts Video may be wondering. After making arrangements to set up the PBS Home Video label -- the first to present PBS programming to the home video market as such, although many programs and series have already had video exposure from other companies -- Pacific Arts executives have had to secure rights to many of the network's most high-profile offerings from the suppliers that provide PBS with most of its programming.
The PAV/PBSHV team recently scored a qualified coup by acquiring limited retail rights to "The Civil War," whose licensor and creator, Florentine Films, had already granted most home video rights to Time/Life Video. Now Pacific Arts has won the support of another major PBS supplier -- Boston's PBS powerhouse WGBH, which has granted the new label rights to two of the network's most revered entertainment series, "Masterpiece Theatre" and "Mystery!" While programs from both series have been widely marketed by other video outfits, those companies have been restricted from promoting the series in conjunction with the PBS name -- a promotional tool that Pacific Arts is sure to make the most of when its first acquisitions hit the video rental market in the coming months. First up under the new arrangement will be "A Tale of Two Cities," "Pasternak," "Jeeves and Wooster," "Heat of the Day," "The Real Charlotte" and "And a Nightingale Sang" from "Masterpiece Theatre," and "Praying Mantis" from "Mystery!"; Pacific Arts and WGBH plan to add new "Masterpiece Theatre" and "Mystery" titles to the PBS Home Video.