Instructional tapes are usually designed to keep one moving. But in the past two years, a genre has emerged that asks viewers to balance physical activity with contemplation. Yin and yang have reached home video.
For independents like Mystic Fire Video and Wellspring, both in New York, and majors such as Time-Life Video, the timing is right. Americans, upset by the violence, stress and moral decline of modern society, increasingly find relief with "wellness" TTC cassettes, which often emphasize the spiritual.
The trend started in 1994, when yoga videos caught fire, capturing 5 percent of the exercise market by year's end, according to VideoScan. More recently, videos featuring angels have taken flight, selling hundreds of thousands of units. The calming influence is spreading to include topics as diverse as stress reduction, UFOs, life after death, hypnosis, massage, Native American teachings, psychic phenomena, herbal remedies, Jesus and the Bible.
"Baby boomers are aging and facing their own mortality. Their children are growing up, and they're facing the big issues: 'Who am I? Why am I here? How do I live a harmonious life?' " says Al Cattabiani, president of Wellspring Media, a specialist in spiritual matters. Year-old Wellspring hopes to take advantage of the fact that few have the answers to these questions.
"Studies have shown that 60 percent of baby boomers prefer to explore many different religious teachings and learn from them, rather than stick to one religion," Mr. Cattabiani says. "In addition, the millennium is coming, and that's a natural time to stop and think about the direction we're taking."
Video marketers are drawing on the demand already tapped by the book trade, which has sprouted a seemingly endless array of best-selling titles such as "The Celestine Prophecy," "Embraced By The Light," "The Road Less Travelled," and Pope John Paul II's "Crossing The Threshold Of Hope." Even television series such as "The X-Files" and "Northern Exposure" routinely explore spiritual or supernatural themes.
Tape is also a commercial outlet for personal feelings. Goldhil Video, which has sold more than 250,000 copies of its seven "Lilias" yoga tapes, recently released "Conversations With God," testimonies of inspirational near-death experiences.
"I had lost both my parents, and I was looking for answers," says Goldhil president Gary Goldman. "Having read many of these books [on near-death experiences], I asked my producer to investigate the subject. We came to the conclusion that there were a lot of people in my age group, 30s and 40s, who were coming to terms with their own mortality as a result of their parents' passing. We felt there was a definite need for an inspirational tape that would give some hope."
The audience is as hard to define as late-20th-century angst. "It's not just some new age, metaphysical person anymore; it's everyone looking for meaning in their lives," says Paul Solomon, president of distributor International Video Network, which sells guides to travel and ethnology as well as upscale cooking videos. IVN began carrying Wellspring's line because Mr. Solomon found that his customers and those for body/mind/spirit were "the same."
Marketing is equally ambitious. "Many of these titles have companion books, so for bookstores, we try to put together a combined display or promotion," says Mr. Solomon. "Some of the video retailers are starting to develop a section for body/mind/spirit, because people buying fitness tapes are also trying to improve in other ways."
Blockbuster, for example, has a new-age fitness category with yoga, tai chi, and the like, distinct from the typical aerobic fitness tapes. Other mainstream retailers are similarly inclined, including Suncoast, Target, Wal-Mart, Borders Books & Music, and Barnes & Noble.
But, says Mr. Cattabiani, "at the end of the day, this is a niche market. We've had some success with video stores and mass merchants, but when you're a niche player like we are, you can't depend exclusively on mainstream video distribution." Most of Wellspring's sales come from mail-order catalogs, health-food outlets, new-age bookstores and direct response ads in new-age magazines.
Others are following the same "wellness" path:
Los Angeles-based video company Living Arts (formerly Healing Arts) was launched in 1988 with its first title, "Massage For Health." It focuses on mind and body fitness over spirituality. The first to invest heavily in yoga videos, Living Arts has sold more than 1 million copies of six videos in that line. Its 25-title catalog also includes tapes on tai chi, meditation, massage and sexuality.
Lightworks Audio & Video, also in Los Angeles, has the slogan, "Tools For Expanding Human Consciousness." Three-year-old Lightworks has 140 audio and video titles on Native American herbal healing, past-life regression, angels, yoga and sexual ecstasy. Its best seller, at 17,000 copies, is "Opening To Angels." But, says acquisitions director Chris Toussaint, "the UFO titles are also selling extremely well, as are tapes on meditation, dreaming and near-death experiences."
Bible and zen series
Wellspring currently has 28 video titles, among them "The Gospel According To Jesus," which is being considered for a national cable channel; "Healthy Aging"; and "The Marriage Survival Kit." The most popular of Wellspring's 30- to 60-minute titles, with sales in the 30,000-unit range, include films in the six-part "Bible" series: "Zen: The Best Of Alan Watts," "Quantum Healing With Deepak Chopra" and "A Conversation With Thomas Moore." Suggested list is generally $19.95.
Where independents venture to tread, big players often follow. Last June, Time-Life Video did an exclusive Barnes & Noble promotion for "Growing Younger," a multimedia set of best-selling author Deepak Chopra, featuring a video, six audiotapes and a workbook for $44.99.
"It takes spirituality, which can often be a dense subject, and puts it into a simple, accessible format that says, 'Hey, I can watch this today and incorporate these changes into my lifestyle tomorrow,' " says Madeline Boyer, Time-Life vice president of brand development.
Ms. Boyer declines to give sales figures, but maintains that the multimedia set was "very successful both from our standpoint and for Barnes & Noble. It was a challenge, because $44.95 is not a price point a lot of people can carry."
Time-Life is now beginning its second tier of marketing, which will feature the fourth-quarter release of the video and a revised workbook for $19.99.
"People today are looking for meaning and purpose in their lives," and they aren't excluding old TV shows, as shown by Time-Life's "Little House on the Prairie" collection, says Ms. Boyer. "A lot of people buy 'Little House' because it reminds them of the positive things in life and has a moral message."