HOME ENTERTAINMENT : Trying to Boost Music Videotape Sales


In the late 1980s, many people predicted that music videotapes would become a dominant force in the home-video sales market. But it hasn’t happened and probably never will.

Music tapes, which mostly sell for between $12 and $20, are just a tiny piece of the home-video pie.

The 1993 sales total--11 million units--seems impressive, until you put it in perspective. In just a few months last year, Disney sold about twice that many cassettes of “Snow White.”

It doesn’t take much to succeed in the music videotape market. Sell 50,000 and you’re a big enough hit to get a gold award. Crack the 100,000 mark and you’re a smash hit--meriting a platinum award.


But there’s hope for the music videotape business. Sales in 1993 were up from 1992. The ’94 figures won’t be out until next month but, according to PolyGram’s senior marketing director, Paul Freehauf, it looks as if there will be another slight increase.

More than any company, PolyGram is trying to boost the music videotape business. Among other things, it’s reducing to $10 the price of some old tapes by prominent artists that originally sold for $20, including Paul McCartney’s “Put It There,” Eric Clapton’s “Cream Of,” Amy Grant’s “Heart in Motion,” Anthrax’s “Through Time” and “The Bob Marley Story.”

PolyGram also includes a flashy, MTV-style, 90-second spot at the beginning of all its music tapes that explains how to hook your TV to your stereo system to get better sound quality.

“People tend to think of videos as just visuals, but sound is very important,” he said. “Some people don’t buy videos because the sound isn’t as good as what they hear on CD or tape.


“With this 90-second spot, we’re targeting the average person who has a TV and a stereo in opposite corners of the room. We’re not selling equipment, just explaining how to integrate equipment to get better sound. Then these people might be more interested in buying other music videos.”

Most music tapes are now sold in record stores, not video stores, since that has been found to be a better way of reaching music fans. Simultaneous release with CDs and audio tapes is crucial too.

“When an artist has new music or is going on tour, that’s the time to put out the video,” Freehauf said. “Then you take advantage of all the advertising and promotion surrounding audio releases and tours. Companies now do more of that than ever.

“We did that with (the hard-rock band) Bon Jovi. Their greatest hits package is a hit on CD and audiotape. We put out a greatest hits video package at the same time and that’s doing very well.”


There’s one problem, though, that no amount of creative marketing can cure. Quite simply, most music tapes aren’t very interesting. Many are just compilations of clips that fans have seen on TV.

“Clip compilations aren’t the strongest product,” Freehauf admitted. “They’re just regurgitated videos that were made for outlets like MTV and VH1. An excess of releases like that has hurt the music video business.”

Some companies are inserting exclusive footage to their music tapes. “That’s one of the best ways to lure customers,” Freehauf said. “We do that when we can but it’s not always possible to add that kind of fresh material.”

Special Interest Videos


“Below the Rim” is an exhilarating homage to the small men who labor among the giants in pro basketball. It contains great footage of skilled mighty mites, past and present, from old-timer Bob Cousy to current 5-foot-3 NBA star Muggsy Bogues. Among the best videos about pro basketball. From CBS/Fox at $15.

Another new NBA video from CBS/Fox is “Super Slams 2,” also $15, showcasing some of the flashier slam-dunkers in pro basketball, including Shaquille O’Neal.

Some of the best kidvid titles on the market explain an adult activity that kids find intriguing. A new half-hour video, “Concrete Trucking,” shows how to make cement--from extracting the essential ingredients from the Earth to mixing it in those big trucks. Information is presented in a way that would fascinate many kids from 3-8. From Pique Productions at $15; (800) 810-KIDS.

If you’re really into mountains, you’ll probably like “Alpine Adventure,” a two-hour ode to the Alps. Along with some great scenic shots of the mountains, there’s a lot of interesting facts and history about Alpine areas. From IVN at $40; (800) 846-2100.


One of the more unusual documentaries about baseball is “Winterball,” which follows some Americans who play during the winter in Venezuela. In addition to showing how these guys adjust to strange conditions and bad facilities, you get a look at the game from a foreign perspective most of us have never seen. From Tapeworm at $20; (805) 257-4904.

What’s New on Video

“The Mask” (New Line): Jim Carrey plays a mousy bank clerk who finds a mask that turns him into a green, rubbery, cartoonish superhero. In this slapstick genre spoof, which features some amazing special effects, our hero is often more interested in mischief than crime fighting. It’s geared to young audiences in tune with Carrey’s reckless, lunatic humor. Cameron Diaz is terrific as one of his girlfriends.

“Wolf” (Columbia TriStar): After being bitten by a wolf, a book editor (Jack Nicholson) develops wolf-like traits that help him through a corporate crisis. But he also turns into a werewolf, which complicates his affair with a rich publisher’s unhappy daughter (Michelle Pfeiffer). Directed by Mike Nichols, it’s part offbeat love story and part old-fashioned, gory horror flick. It’s OK if you approach it strictly as a high-class B-movie.


“The Shadow” (MCA/Universal): Played by Alec Baldwin, the Shadow, the hero of the famed old radio series, is a crime fighter whose mystical powers include the abilities to “cloud men’s minds’ and to make himself invisible. Slipping in and out of his alter ego--Manhattan playboy Lamont Cranston--the Shadow battles an enemy (John Lone) with similar powers. The tone shifts from serious to campy are bothersome, but if you’re in the mood for a superhero adventure, this isn’t a bad movie. And the sets of 1930s-'40s New York are stunning.