PANASONIC, TOSHIBA TOUT DVD WITH MAJOR AD EFFORTS: THOUGH TARDY, SOFTWARE GETS READY FOR OSCAR NIGHT LAUNCH

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Toshiba America Consumer Products kicks off its TV campaign for digital video disc players Feb. 20. That follows Panasonic Consumer Electronics Co.'s DVD entry last week.

Both, however, will wait until Academy Awards day, March 24, before the first movie titles from DVD's biggest software champion, Time Warner's Warner Home Video, arrive.

Panasonic appears to be the biggest spender on the hardware side, with an estimated '97 budget of $15 million to $17 million; that matches what the company spent on all consumer products last year.

Bob Greenberg, VP-general manager for Panasonic's Communications Division, said the effort will be Panasonic's biggest ever to launch a product.

Panasonic's TV schedule will lead up to placement on the Academy Awards telecast. Grey Advertising, New York, is the agency.

SPENDING UNCLEAR

Toshiba plans a multimillion-dollar TV, radio and print campaign from Ferrell Calvillo Communications, New York, but total spending is unclear.

Both helped create the DVD standard-and both take credit.

Mr. Greenberg hopes the early ad blitz will give Panasonic the lead in DVD sales, generating incremental sales for TVs and related home-theater products.

"It is a booster rocket for all of the other things we make," he said.

DVD players, priced from $499 to $1,750, will play a full movie on one CD-size disc, with audio and video quality higher than a VCR's.

DVD has been on a slow, bumpy ride; the industry thought products would be ready last year.

Toshiba, for example, has promoted DVD in enthusiast magazines for a year and staged a teaser TV campaign last August. But when content wasn't ready, hardware makers had to back off.

CONTROLLED ROLLOUT

Warner Home Video will conduct a controlled rollout of films, releasing 40 titles in seven major markets. Sony's Columbia TriStar Home Video will introduce 20 to 50 titles over the next year, according to Video Business.

Fox, MCA, Walt Disney Co. and Paramount haven't committed to the format.

Panasonic broke its campaign in eight major markets; Toshiba's debuts on NBC's Thursday prime-time block in key markets.

Some hardware powers also are holding back.

"The hardware is only as good as the software, and without a significant volume of software we're not going to be rushing out to the marketplace," said a spokesman for Thomson Consumer Electronics.

Sony Electronics will launch its player in April but hasn't set ad plans, a spokeswoman said. Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, is Sony's consumer electronics

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