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In the Market for Entertainment

18 May, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

Don't look now, but the ghost of Warren Lieberfarb is haunting a supermarket near you.

Or at least near me. I came into the DVD picture late in the first reel, but folks tell me Lieberfarb's vision all along was that consumers would pick up $10 DVDs at the supermarket, throwing them into the cart as casually as they do a brick of soda pop or a bag of dog kibbles.

That specter is true this week. Take a look in your nearby Ralphs market. At least all over Southern California, the stores now sport a standing display of MGM titles for $9.99 each and, as of last week by my reckoning, they also have 4-foot cardboard cubes emblazoned with the Paramount logo and brimming -— although I must say I have noticed the levels dropping quickly, which is bound to be good for Paramount — with DVDs for $9.99.

True, much of the fare is catalog. But I suspect a lot of folks who only recently got DVD players will pick up a copy of Titanic or The Wild Thornberrys for $9.99. Maybe Terminator and Legally Blonde as well, at that price.

Vons Markets in this area were devoid of video. Not one in sight at any price, in either format, even on the checkstands. Meanwhile, Albertson's, the only one of the three that rents video, had an odd mix of new releases, catalog and secondary titles. Plenty of Buena Vista stuff, I noticed, but product from other suppliers was pretty picky-choosey, with a couple of big hits and a lot of stuff that seemed almost out of place in a store with such a small selection. Apparently hits are not driving the Albertson's rental market.

It did have a display offering $5 off the purchase of any two DVDs priced $9.99 or less (I'm guessing it went up before the offer expired), bringing the price for those titles down to about $7.50. Many of the titles on display were kidvids, and I suspect a lot of parents were happy to fork it over for titles the kids will watch ad nauseum.

MGM has been offering catalog at these prices in Wal-Mart for a long time, but it's more recent at supermarkets, at least in my experience (please respond below or write to me at the e-mail link at the top of the screen if things are different in your area).

The Paramount bins are new, too. Ralphs markets still have their usual display of a handful of first-week titles at the checkstands and service desk, but these new bins of catalog titles are placed at the front of the store, beside the ice cream or seasonal patio furniture, beckoning to those seeking leisure.

Maybe Ralphs is using DVD as a way to distinguish itself from the other prominent chains here which, along with Ralphs, recently emerged from a bruising strike. The stores won, but at the price of a lot of shoppers getting trained to go elsewhere. Elsewhere like Wal-Mart. Looks like Ralphs is counting on DVD to bring at least some of them back.

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