Videotapes roll on a fast track

Videotapes roll on a fast track

Alvin P. Sanoff

Videotapes roll on a fast track

The $6 billion video industry is speeding into the future on fast forward, bringing consumers a tape bonanza.

As the industry grows to record levels, viewing opportunities open up, trends shift and the public becomes the big winner.

Hundreds of specialized videocassettes on everything from French cooking to how to buy or sell a used car are moving into a rapidly changing marketplace every month. Some even include commercials. The tapes are being sold at outlets that once did not stock videos, and prices have dipped as low as $9.95.

Consultant Dick Kelly of Cambridge Associates in Stamford, Conn., expects consumers to buy about 14 million special-interest videos in 1986, compared with 6 million last year.

This surge is in keeping with the trend toward specialization in magazines, books and even television as audiences seek out products that meet personal needs and tastes. The fastest-growing video categories include sports, fitness, cooking and children’s programing.

A sampling of new titles points up the diversity: “Take Charge! How to Become Your Own Best Therapist’; “The Great Ape Activity Tape,’ for children; “The Sharks,’ part of a National Geographic series, and “For Love of Angela,’ a video version of a romance novel.

These and other tapes will be played in many of the nation’s 27 million households with videocassette recorders. By year-end, 7 million more homes are expected to have VCR’s, broadening the base for narrowly focused products.

What’s different about the new video wave is not simply the growth of special-interest titles but the shrinking prices. The tapes are aimed at the sales, not the rental, market and are usually priced at $29.95 or less to attract consumers. Many feature-film videos now fall in a similar price range, but analysts say the market for them will remain primarily a rental one. Most adults, they say, want to see a film only once but will repeatedly view a cassette on how to improve at golf or cooking.

Specialized tapes call for specialized distribution. Manufacturers say stores that sell athletic gear will carry sports-related videos, while videos on cooking will be found in kitchen-supply shops.

These changes do not foreclose massmarket outlets, especially for products that have broad appeal, such as videos for children. Some of the more popular titles are also available for rental at stores and libraries. “Cassettes will become simply another packaged product, just like a bar of soap,’ predicts Fred Brison, president of Serendipity Communications in Houston. He envisions a bag of charcoal or a jar of barbecue sauce carrying a coupon for ordering a videocassette on barbecuing.

New videos such as the “Playboy Centerfold’ represent a synergism of print and film. “We feel magazine names provide the credibility a celebrity might have provided in the past,’ says Executive Vice President Court Shannon of Karl-Lorimar Home Video, which has tie-ins with Playboy, Consumer Reports, Parents and Ski magazines.

Book companies are also “publishing’ tapes. They develop not only original titles but also video versions of what appears between hard covers. McGraw-Hill, for example, has spun off into cassette How to Make a Speech, by Steve Allen. “We will do a book, video and audio tapes of the same title and allow people to select the mode in which they take in the information,’ says Dana Ardi, vice president of McGraw-Hill Productions.

Another wrinkle becoming more popular is the inclusion of commercials in videos. Getting a sponsor reduces the cost of production and hence the retail price. Some videos include only sponsors’ names in the titles and their products in the background of scenes. “It’s a wonderful way for a giant marketer to sublimate messages that say “buy, buy, buy,” note Robin Montgomery, senior vice president of Los Angeles-based Prism Entertainment.

Procter & Gamble is trying a more aggressive strategy in the “American Woman’ video, an 80-minute magazine that contains 6 minutes of commercials. It is being test-marketed in three cities. Price: $9.95. Many analysts think the public will zip past commercials.

The industry’s expansion is tempting more and more companies to plunge in, and analysts are looking for a major shakeout ahead as many titles fail. But for consumers tired of the madding crowds in video stores on Saturday nights, the news is only good. Prices will go lower, averaging between $10 and $20 a tape, and products will be abundant as people increasingly turn to video for information, not just entertainment. Says Robin Montgomery: “People will buy casettes the way they purchase books and records. We are a nation of collectors.’

Photo: Diverse special-interest videocassettes: “The Video Wine Guide,’ with Dick Cavett, $34.95; “The Sharks,’ a National Geographic Video, $29.95; “Clifford’s Sing Along Adventure,’ $14.95; “For Love of Angela,’ from the Romance Theater series, $11.95

COPYRIGHT 1986 All rights reserved.

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