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DISNEY PRESENTS; GIANT TO TAKE ``WONDERFUL WORLD'' FILMS TO VIDEO.

Byline: Dave McNary Daily News Staff Writer

Walt Disney Co., in a move to maintain its kingpin status in the family-oriented home video arena, will repackage movies it makes for ``Wonderful World of Disney'' into videos for sale.

The Burbank-based entertainment giant believes it can squeeze further profits from its already lucrative home video operation by linking its powerful brand name to made-for-television fare such as the recently aired ``Cinderella,'' starring Brandy and Whitney Houston.

Disney will kick off the program with ``Cinderella'' in January. It originally planned to release only ``Cinderella'' as a video but then decided to include other projects from ``Wonderful World of Disney,'' which airs Sunday nights on its ABC network.

``Cinderella'' pulled in about 60 million viewers to finish fourth in the weekly Nielsen rankings, well above expectations, and led ABC to victory in that week's rating race.

``The prospects for `Cinderella' look so good that we feel that the other titles will do extremely well,'' said Tania Moloney, spokeswoman for Disney's home-video operations.

Disney has not yet disclosed pricing and whether titles will be offered for both sale and rental. But executives have indicated the program eventually could generate 15 percent of Disney's annual home-video revenues, estimated at $2.6 billion by analysts.

That would mean revenues of about $400 million annually, or Disney's expected cut from retail sales of $800 million. Assuming the tapes are sold for $19.95 each, annual sales of TV-movie tapes would amount to 40 million units - a figure within ``the realm of reason,'' according to industry tracker Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research.

Adams said ``Cinderella'' should sell well at video and added that Disney's decision to broaden its already massive distribution pipeline makes sense.

``The only way to defend the retail space Disney already has at mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart is to keep a stream of product going through,'' he said. ``They've already carved out the space and this helps assure that there's always going to be a selection of 20 to 30 relatively new titles.''

Disney is producing 17 original movies for the first season of its revived ``Wonderful World of Disney'' and probably will release most of them on home video, according to Moloney. It aired ``Angels in the End Zone,'' starring Christopher Lloyd, on Sunday and the program finished 50th in the weekly Nielsens.

Major upcoming titles include ``Oliver Twist,'' to air Sunday, and starring Richard Dreyfuss; ``Ruby Bridges,'' with Lela Rochon and set for March; ``Gold Rush,'' with Alyssa Milano, also in March; and ``Miracle at Midnight'' with Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston for the May sweeps period.

Adams said the move represents the first time that home-video versions of TV movies-of-the-week have been released. Recent successes in the TV-to-video business include a variety of Saturday morning cartoon shows, ``The X-Files'' and Ken Burns' documentaries on baseball and the Civil War for the Public Broadcasting System. ``The concept can work if there's a dedicated audience,'' he said.

The analyst noted that the video releases represent a workable outcome of what he termed the ``seldom-realized synergy'' expected to emerge by combining Disney's operations with those of Capital Cities/ABC. Disney paid $19 billion for Cap Cities last year.

Disney has scored by far the biggest successes in the video sales with its animated films, including all-time leader ``The Lion King'' with an estimated 30 million copies. Analyst Arthur Rockwell of Yaeger Capital Markets pointed out Disney also dominates the direct-to-video market, which relies on making low-cost sequels to recognizable properties such as ``Aladdin'' and ``Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.''

Rockwell said it makes sense for Disney to expand its leading market share in home videos. ``Since you're talking about a fairly large investment by Disney in these movies of the week, why not take them to home video?'' he said.

Disney's latest direct-to-video title, ``Beauty and the Beast - The Enchanted Christmas,'' hit store shelves Tuesday at a suggested price of $26.99. The video version of the original film sold about 20 million copies and Adams believes the sequel can manage half that number despite a marketplace that has become much more crowded than a year ago.

Some of the top performers on video during the current holiday sales season are expected to include Sony's ``Men In Black'' and ``My Best Friend's Wedding,'' Universal's ``The Lost World: Jurassic Park'' and Warner Bros.' ``Batman and Robin.''

``The competition is vicious for space but that's where Disney has the advantage,'' Adams said.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1--Color) Disney's ``Oliver Twist,'' to air Sunday, stars Richard Dreyfuss as Fagin.

(2--Color) No caption (Brandy and Whitney Houston in ``Cinderella'')
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 12, 1997
Words:773
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