Lionsgate to release DVDs in January

By New Year's Day, most movie honchos are ready to kick back and tally the score on the holiday season. It's the hottest time of the year for DVD sales, the biggest source of revenue for most flicks.

But executives at Lionsgate lgf are betting that they'll thrive in January by taking the game into overtime.

The independent studio kept some of its most popular new videos out of the Christmas fray, and accelerated release dates for DVDs that normally would be due in February, to help turn the first month of the year into what it calls a "fifth season."

"We have a tremendous amount riding on our success in January," says Lionsgate President Steve Beeks.

DVDs out next month include War, an action film with Jason Statham and Jet Li; 3:10 to Yuma, a western starring Russell Crowe; Good Luck Chuck, a comedy featuring Jessica Alba; Saw IV, the latest in the horror franchise; and Trade, a crime thriller with Kevin Kline.

These films collectively generated about $190 million in theatrical ticket sales — nearly half the box office tally expected to be attributable to Lionsgate in the fiscal year that ends this March.

None is a blockbuster, though. Saw IV leads with $63 million in ticket sales since its release in October.

That's why Lionsgate doesn't want to offer them in November and December. Shelves are filled with expected hot sellers, including Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, The Bourne Ultimatum, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and The Simpsons Movie.

"Being the No. 3 or No. 4 title on a release date would be a little too far down for us," Beeks says.

There's far less competition in January. Hollywood virtually stopped offering hits during that month around 2005 as sales of DVD players matured. Before then, studios competed to sell discs to people who had just gotten their first player for Christmas.

As studios retreated, Lionsgate saw a chance last year to appeal to consumers who get gift cards.

People will spend $26.3 billion on gift cards this holiday season, the National Retail Federation forecast last month, up 6% from 2006. The group found last year that about 63% of the value of those cards had yet to be spent by the second week in January.

Lionsgate will spend more than $20 million on consumer ads, most of it for TV spots. The goal is to sell half the discs for each title in six days.

The studio also hopes to generate 20% more revenue from each DVD in its first 26 weeks than the corresponding film made at the box office. Most DVDs just match the theatrical revenue over the same period.

Lionsgate expects retailers to help by spending additional millions on ads and clearing a lot of shelf space.

"Retailers are saying, 'Listen, I need something in January,' " Beeks says. "And here we are."