"Ghost," the box office champion of 1990, will materialize on videocassette next month from Paramount Home Video, priced for the rental market and only the most serious collectors (about $100 on VHS or $29.95 on Beta). That's bad news for "Ghost" watchers who expected that the $210 million box office bonanza was a shoo-in for the low-priced video treatment accorded "Pretty Woman" and "Total Recall," which were released on tape priced below $25 despite lower box office figures than "Ghost." "Ghost" made movie magic with its tear-jerking twist on the bad news-good news setup (bad news: he's dead; good news: he's still around). Now "Ghost" the video will exhibit its own marketing variation on the same theme -- the good news being that Paramount will spend untold millions to help retailers sell used copies of the tape after its rental demand has peaked.

Paramount's decision to go with the $100 price -- the same strategy it employed for the "Hunt for Red October" video last fall -- comes as a surprise to consumers who have come to expect low-priced video releases for their favorite big-screen blockbusters. The flurry of low-priced tapes last fall, followed by some very high-profit, high-ticket releases (including "Dick Tracy," "Die Hard 2" and now "Ghost"), makes for a very confusing marketplace, especially considering the efforts to which Paramount and other studios went to promote the notion of buying recent hits at low video prices not too long ago. According to Paramount Home Video Executive Vice President Eric Doctorow, it's not going to get any less confusing in the future: Pricing decisions will still be made "on a case by case basis," depending on which pricing approach seems to studio types to promise the highest potential profits.

The villain in the case of "Ghost," as in so many others these days, is Saddam Hussein -- along with the state of the economy and the timing of the tape's release. "It would be fair for someone to say that we should be able to sell millions and millions of copies of a title with the extraordinary popularity of 'Ghost' at a lower price," explains Doctorow. "But given the particular nature of the marketplace right now -- being at war, in a recession and outside the gift-giving fourth quarter -- we felt that we would not be able to sell enough units at a lower price to be able to maximize profits this time around." Industry wisdom holds that while rental-priced tapes are only four to five times as expensive as sales-priced tapes, the marketing and other costs involved in low-priced releases are so high that studios must sell 10 copies of a low-priced tape to earn the same profit as a single high-priced cassette.

The drive among studios to help retailers sell off their "previously viewed" used cassettes after the peak rental period has ended -- begun in earnest with Disney's "Dick Tracy" release -- could signal a new direction in the video industry's attempt to solve the pricing/profit problem. In an industry first, Paramount will place a 60-second commercial at the beginning of each "Ghost" tape promoting the idea of buying used tapes in general and used "Ghosts" in particular. While the studios don't see any extra money from these sales, the promise of promotional aid does make it easier for retailers to load up on high-priced cassettes. Disney's previously viewed promotion -- which included rebates and new boxes for consumers who bought used "Dick Tracy" tapes -- helped that title set an industry record for unit sales of a rental-priced title. While Paramount isn't offering any rebates or boxes, Doctorow is confident that "Ghost" will at least outsell the tape that "Dick Tracy" narrowly nosed out for the unit-sales crown -- Paramount's $100 "Hunt for Red October," of which there are more than 430,000 copies floating around.

Another way that Disney sought to make its high "Tracy" ticket easier to swallow for retailers was its guarantee that its $95 price tag would remain unchanged for at least a year after its late-December debut. Paramount is making no such promises; Doctorow will say only that he "wouldn't expect us to reprice 'Ghost' for sale for six months." In other words, budget-minded consumers who want their "Ghosts" untouched by unknown VCR heads may not have a very long wait.

Strange Tapefellows

Richard Nixon, Barbara Walters and Connie Francis may appear to have little in common, but all three are featured on tapes due in stores from MPI Home Video on the same day this month. The former president shows up in "Richard Nixon Reflects," a 90-minute series of interviews with Morton Kondracke that originally aired on the PBS series "American Interests" last May. Walters looks back on 50 episodes of her ABC News "Barbara Walters Specials," cramming 15 years' worth of celebrities in two hours. And the woman who won Billboard Magazine's "Best Female Vocalist" title for seven consecutive years revisits "Where the Boys Are," "V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N" and as many other classics as she can fit into one hour in "Connie Francis: A Legend in Concert." The three are priced at $19.98 each and will arrive in stores Feb. 20; MPI makes no mention of savings that will be offered to the countless consumers who snap up all three.