DVD Revolution Benefiting Urban Retail

Catering selection to urban films is the key to maximizing profits

March 9th, 2001 by Yasmin Shiraz

Urban music retailers are beginning to sell digital video disks (DVDs) that appeal to the urban consumer alongside traditional music CDs. Selling new movies like The Kings of Comedy and vintage flicks Coffee has increased bottom lines. But it’s not simply a renewed interest in the standard VHS format films that has costumers buzzing, they want the newer, trendier DVD format. And the sales numbers have been astonishing.

Lee Reynolds, of Lee’s Sweets and Sounds in Chicago, IL, is one of several retailers selling DVDs in his store. He claims that customers are interested in DVDs more than VHS because “it’s a new fad and because it’s more advanced.” Reynolds offers an array of black films including recent releases like The Queens of Comedy, Blue Street, The Up in Smoke Tour Video and Backstage, as well as vintage releases like Superfly, Black Caesar, and Penitentiary

When Reynolds added DVDs to his line of product offered in his stores during Thanksgiving 2000, he did so because of the competition. “I wanted to be in competition with the chains. I had to be able to compete with Best Buy and Circuit City, which were selling DVDs.” The larger retailers are selling DVDs, but they are not nearly as stocked on vintage urban titles as Sweets and Sounds. Therein lies Reynolds upper hand with the competition, he is delivering DVD titles that are not being sold at the larger retail chains.

The apparent key to experiencing profitable DVD sales on the urban level lies in the sale of black films. Whether the films are new or old, comedy or tragedy, black and urban titles are being purchased by urban customers. The urban consumer is not looking for Free Willy, Thelma & Louise or even Erin Brockovich. But stocking Big Mama’s House, ShaftRush Hour and Eastsidaz appears to be keeping cash registers more active.

Xenon Pictures, the first film distributor dedicated to licensing films principally for black, Hispanic, and Asian audiences in North America, is the reason why retailers have such access to older black films. “We went out and found the licenses for material that was made in the ’70s, films that were controlled by people like Rudy Ray Moore (Dolemite), Melvin Van Peebles (Sweet Sweetback’s) and Jamma Fanaka (Penitentiary),” says S. Leigh Savidge, founder and chief executive officer of Xenon Pictures, Inc. “These individuals owned their copyrights and represented an opportunity.”

As Savidge tells it, he would call video stores and inquire about which titles customers were looking for. Once he knew what customers wanted, he sought out the licenses for those movies. There was virtually no competition for distributing the black films. “The major studios are very loathe to sublet their license to anybody,” Savidge notes. “They’re thinking: ‘Why should I sell off to a small entity, when I can sell off to a big chain?'” And therein lies Savidge’s upperhand with the competition: He is distributing independent film titles that are not being distributed by the larger studios.

Both Reynolds and Savidge have seen an increase in business as a result of DVD sales. According to Video Store Magazine, the pre-eminent source on VHS buying and DVD buying, for the week ending February 18, 2001, VHS and DVD sales were $174.9 million. During the same week in 2000, VHS and DVD sales were $159 million. In one year, VHS and DVD sales have risen $15.9 million. Most industry insiders attribute the increase of home video sales to DVD. 

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), formerly CEMA, revealed that in January 2000, 370,031 DVD players were sold. In January 2001, 572,301 DVD players were sold by US retailers, resulting in a 65 percent increase.