Are B-movies going down the drain in the home-video market?
They’ve definitely been on the decline in the last few years. According to a recent study by the Fairfield Group, there was a 10% drop in dealer purchases of B-movies last year. Another study, by Vidmark Communications, showed dealers ordered 23% fewer B-titles last year.
Though there’s no standard definition of a B-movie, it’s basically a film that has had little or no exposure in theaters, has been minimally advertised and usually lacks name actors--movies such as “Buy and Cell,” “Good Night, God Bless” and “Going Undercover.” They often are low-budget films that boast lots of sex, action, adventure and violence.
A more practical way to describe B-movies: those that retailers purchase only after they’ve stocked up on the big A titles, such as “Die Hard,” “Three Men and a Baby,” “E.T.” and “Bull Durham.”
Though it’s consumers seeking variety who suffer when retailers order fewer B-movies, it was consumer gripes that helped trigger the decline of the Bs.
A few years ago, consumers were complaining about long waits to get copies of hit movies. So retailers, frightened by the specter of all those dissatisfied customers, got into the habit of stocking up on A titles. They then had less money to spend on B-movies.
“Retailers were scared of losing customers,” said Paul Culberg, president of New World, one of the video companies that specialize in B-movies (others include Prism, Magnum and Vidmark). “The major video companies preyed on that fear. So retailers started buying up A titles. In the last four years, there’s been an incredible drop in B-movies sales to retailers. They’re about 25% of the market now. About four years ago, they were at least 50%.”
Stocking up on A-titles was also attractive to retailers because it meant fewer gambles. “Part of it was going for the sure thing,” said Jack Talley, director of sales for Celebrity Home Entertainment, which recently decided to bow out of the B-movie business. “Why should a retailer take a chance on a B-movie when he could buy a few more copies of a sure thing? It’s just harder and harder to get retailers to buy B-titles.”
Retailers buy A titles based on factors such as box-office figures--still the most popular gauge of rental success--the drawing power of the cast and the amount of advertising and promotion the film had in its original release. High-grossing films or heavily promoted movies boasting name stars are generally the most popular rentals.
But when buying B-movies, retailer Lou Berg of Houston’s Audio-Video Plus noted, there are no sure-fire gauges:
“You look at things like packaging and genre (action/adventure movies are the most popular rentals). But you’re still guessing. If you’re a retailer and you’re confronted with buying a movie that was never released, that you’ve never heard of, starring actors you don’t know, what do you do? For many retailers, it’s easier to just ignore the B-movie and buy a couple more copies of the latest hit.”
B-movies are usually $10-$30 cheaper than A-titles but that hasn’t been much of an incentive to retailers.
There are some signs that the attitude among retailers about B-movies is changing. “I think the decline has flattened for B-movies and there may be an 8-10% increase this year,” New World’s Culberg predicted.
The reason? Several industry officials contend it’s simple consumer demand for variety.
“Variety is more important to renters than some retailers think,” said Sam Pirnazar, vice president of Vidmark Entertainment. “People still like to take chances on movies they don’t know a lot about. When they go to a video store they like to have a choice when they’re not in the mood for the latest hit. That’s where B-movies come in.”