Fast forward for video rental

Men In Black was the most watched video rental in Britain last year, despite less than enthusiastic reviews and a relatively lacklustre performance at the box office. It comfortably left the John Travolta and Nicholas Cage thriller Face/Off in second place.

According to figures from Taylor Nelson Sofres MVR’s VideoTrak service, Men In Black, which starred rap star Will Smith and grizzled actor Tommy Lee Jones, had nearly 6.2 million “impacts” – individual viewings or total audience – in 1998. This is nearly 2 million more than Face/Off’s 4.3 million.

Overall, the video rental market in the UK showed healthy growth during 1998, with a 12 per cent increase over the previous year, reaching a figure of more than 122 million rentals. These figures scupper the doom-sayers, who had predicted that the rise of the multichannel TV environment would slow down the market.

The table shown here is ranked by impacts. However, if the titles were ranked according to the total number of households renting them, then the same ten films would appear but in a slightly different order.

George of the Jungle, a children’s movie about the adventures of an inept Tarzan clone, is ranked seventh according to the number of households which rented it, but moves up to fifth place on total audience or impacts (presumably due to the number of children watching it). The romantic comedy My Best Friend’s Wedding and the Mel Gibson thriller Conspiracy Theory swap places at the bottom of the table.

VideoTrak was developed in 1992 to provide actual viewing figures for all types of pre-recorded video. It uses a combination of a unique code on each title and the BARB TV Audience Measurement System’s PeopleMeter. The coding is now on more than 95 per cent of all videos released in the UK rental market. VideoTrak has helped provide a recognised currency for the planning, buying and selling of on-tape advertising.

It has to be stressed that some of the titles on the table shown had an advantage over others, in that they were released earlier in the year and were therefore available to rent for a longer period of time.

Men In Black, for example, was released on February 4, while George of the Jungle had to wait until June 23. Face/Off was also a relatively late launch – May 12 – suggesting that in a straight fight, Travolta and Cage might have overtaken Smith and Jones with ease.

Titanic, the film sensation of 1998, was released extremely late in the year, on October 19. It also had a simultaneous sell at launch, with considerable marketing spend put behind sales rather than rental.

It is interesting to note that despite the late release date and the concentration on sales, the Hollywood blockbuster still managed to attract 330,000 viewers from the 4- to 15-year-old age group in just six weeks.

In an average week, UK households spend an hour and a half watching pre-recorded videos. This compares with almost exactly the same amount of time spent watching various Sky channels, and is still dwarfed by the 12 hours spent watching BBC1 and ITV.

UK households also spend an hour and 11 minutes watching videos recorded off TV at home, suggesting that “time displacement” TV viewing has failed to become the significant player that many pundits once thought it would be.

If viewing data from UK homes which have either cable or satellite TV is separated from all TV data, then, interestingly, the amount of time an average household spends watching pre-recorded videos actually increases, from an hour and a half to just under two hours.

However, it could be that households with cable or satellite tend to have more individuals in them, providing more consumption “opportunities”.

As might be expected, the big losers in homes with cable or satellite are the terrestrial channels, with adverse consequences for BBC2, Channel 4 and Channel 5. Whether this is because these channels are generally of less interest, or whether it is because they offer specialist viewing which can be found (or substituted for) through cable and satellite, is unclear.

The biggest watchers of rented videos are those aged 25 to 34, although the 16 to 24 age group and the 35 to 54 age groups combined account for almost as many viewings.

The most popular genre of video is comedy, which took 22.8 per cent of all viewings in 1998, followed by action/adventure, which took 20.1 per cent.

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