Sony Promo to offer Free DVD Rentals

DVD will be getting a big boost this fall. Sony has announced a multipronged promotion with Internet film distributor NetFlix and several major video retailers that will expose thousands of movie lovers to the new format. The program will run simultaneously with one announced recently by Blockbuster Video and Philips Electronics. The Sony/NetFlix and Blockbuster/Philips promotionals were announced in the wake of Circuit City's admission that, without outside funding, it will have to cut back on its Divx marketing effort.

The home-video divisions of Warner Bros. and Columbia TriStar, a Sony subsidiary, have agreed to offer 10 free disc rentals to purchasers of Sony DVD players. The rental portion of the promotion will be launched by Hollywood Video and West Coast Video stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Miami. According to Mike Fidler, Sony VP of DVD marketing, participating film studios and Sony will provide dealers with promotional funds. Hollywood Video is the nation's second-largest video retailer.

NetFlix, the popular Internet movie-rental operation, will run a free movie blitz from October 1 through January 31. Consumers who buy Sony DVD players through authorized retailers will be entitled to five free movies from NetFlix, which has an inventory of over 1600 DVD titles. Sony will operate its own DVD club on the NetFlix site and give members the opportunity to win promotional items and take part in sweepstakes. A Sony newsletter covering the company's software and hardware will also be sent to all club members.

In related news, Fidler announced that Sony has shipped its $799 five-disc DVD/CD changer; buyers of the machine will get a free copy of James Taylor's Live music video and his Hourglass CD. Sony is also sponsoring Sessions at West 54th Street, a public-television series that features a wide range of musicians performing at Sony Music Studios. Sessions is recorded using digital Betacam recorders and is mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The 26-episode show typically runs at 11 PM Saturday nights on public-television stations nationwide.

A DVD compilation of great Sessions performances will include Keb' Mo', Bobby McFerrin, Wynton Marsalis, and Taj Mahal. "Music content is so important in the DVD equation," says Fidler. "Dolby Digital inherently lends itself to live musical performances. We're particularly excited about Sessions at West 54th Street. The sampler will increase DVD's appeal to a diverse group of music fans."