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The Long Shadow of Lieberfarb Extends Even to Board Games

24 Feb, 2003 By: Stephanie Prange

Playing the new 20th anniversary edition of Trivial Pursuit recently, we came across a question I would have had a unique advantage in answering. (Unfortunately, it went to the other team. Curse my luck.)

Under the “Inventions” category was the question “What medium is Warner Bros. home-entertainment chairman honcho Warren Lieberfarb hailed as ‘the godfather of'?”

It was an easy question for my husband to answer, being married to an editor of a magazine covering DVD, but its appearance in the time-honored trivia game seemed to cement in my mind Lieberfarb's place in the history of home entertainment.

With so much of Lieberfarb's strategy still in place in the home entertainment marketplace -- even if the man himself is absent after leaving Warner -- it seems destined that his vision of low-priced DVD and the demise of the store-based video rental model in favor of video-on-demand will become reality. But will it?

Certainly, the first part of that vision is taking hold. Consumers seem to be buying up low-priced DVDs in ever-increasing numbers. The pricing structure of the disc has succeeded in changing consumer habits to a certain extent. Formerly conditioned to rent the titles they wanted, consumers now think to purchase many of them instead. Heck, even rental giant Blockbuster Video is encouraging customers to buy DVDs.

But is the rental model going to take the hit he envisioned? It may be suffering from the competition of low-priced DVDs, but the VOD future seems as far off as ever. Rental permutations such as Netflix's subscription model seem more of a threat to the traditional rental business than does VOD at the moment.

Two years ago, our magazine had on its cover the headline “Antioco vs. Lieberfarb” (with a graphic of the two titans in boxing gloves) and detailed the long-running difference of opinion between the heads of Blockbuster and Warner Home Video. In a New York Times piece quoted in the article, Antioco said, “DVD sales will never replace rentals” and in a story in the same magazine, he opined that VOD would ultimately attract value-minded sellthrough buyers rather than renters.

As Blockbuster replaces rental shelves with sellthrough racks, I can't help but think Lieberfarb has won the match, but it remains to be seen how far the long shadow of Lieberfarb will reach.

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