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‘Emperor’ Video Distributor Tries New Tactic With Survey

Times Staff Writer

In an effort to pump up the rental potential of “The Last Emperor,” the movie’s home-video distributor has released a study that undercuts rivals “Broadcast News” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

It’s sort of like Miller Lite Beer dumping on competitors in a commercial. This is not a common practice in the gentlemanly world of home-video marketing and advertising.

Measuring intent-to-rent and consumer-awareness, the study--commissioned by Nelson Entertainment--found that “The Last Emperor” scored better than Paramount’s “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and CBS-Fox’s “Broadcast News,” but not as well as MGM/UA’s “Moonstruck.”

“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” has been out since Aug. 16 but the others were only released this week, just in time to capitalize on the long Labor Day weekend.

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The results of the study were sent to the nation’s video retailers and distributors as well as to the news media.

Jerilyn Kessel, a managing director for Alexander & Associates, the New York-based marketing consulting firm that designed the study, said the point was to establish “The Last Emperor” as an “A” title and dispel the notion of many retailers that, despite the film’s nine Oscars and $53-million box office gross, it’s an oddball, arty, foreign movie with limited appeal.

“The best way to position ‘The Last Emperor’ among the major rental titles is a study comparing it with popular movies coming out at the same time,” she said. “Nelson didn’t set out to knock the opposition. But comparing it to the major competitors was the best way to make the point Nelson wanted to make.”

What if the results had confirmed the popular conceptions and placed “The Last Emperor” low in consumer awareness and intent to rent?

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“Then the Nelson people certainly wouldn’t be shouting the results from the rooftops,” Kessel said.

The report, based on a survey of VCR owners, projects that 26 million households are likely to rent “The Last Emperor,” compared to 19 million for “Broadcast News” and 16 million for “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” On the other hand, “Moonstruck,” which boasts Oscar-winning performances by Cher and Olympia Dukakis, is likely to be rented by 29 million households, it said.

“The results are a bonus for MGM/UA (which puts out ‘Moonstruck’),” Kessel said. “They aren’t our clients. They just happened to come out on top.”

Some industry observers contend that circulating the study to retailers and distributors was dirty pool. Though it probably encouraged orders for “The Last Emperor,” the study may have deterred store owners from stocking more copies of “Broadcast News” and “Planes.”

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But Kessel and Nelson publicist Maria La Magra said there had been no repercussions from CBS-Fox or Paramount.

“This didn’t generate a war, though it might have caused some bad feelings,” Kessel said. “I warned the Nelson people that this could backfire. One of those companies might commission a study that might make Nelson look bad. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

There has been some confusion about “The Last Emperor” and its commercial ties. While there will be advertising in other media promoting the video along with Tsingtao beer and Chun King egg rolls, there is not, as some people think, a commercial on the tape.


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