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APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: Video’s Top 10 Topics … in a Flash

13 Apr, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

No rest for the wary. Just because a columnist is on vacation doesn’t mean his column is too, especially in these perilous times for American business in general, let alone video. Lest I let my column lapse a week and come back to find the column is kaput, I decided to muddle on.

Lucky for me that just as I was fighting vacationing writer’s block (no doubt brought on by too much sun block on my forehead), who should IM (Instant Message for you Luddites) me with a way out of my dry-dock but the Scourge of Hollywood and Savior of Independents. I refer of course to none other than Mr. Steven Scavelli, president of Flash Distributors, a Brooklyn-based video wholesaler with an industrywide influence that belies its largely regional footprint.

In fact, you might call Scavelli the conscience of the independents. He says and does things others might think about but, perhaps out of inability or fear or lack of resources, are ill equipped to undertake. (Don’t worry, Steve, I’ll resist the temptation to tag you "The Undertaker." Besides, I believe that service mark already is the property of the World Wrestling Federation, identifying a rather large and mean-looking grappler in its employ.)

Yes, Flash is the wholesaler who, along with Texas-based wholesaler ETD, has of late brought suit against Universal Studios Home Video for alleged anticompetitive practices. Nonetheless, believe it or not, Scavelli is that rare somebody in this or any industry who is not in it just for the money. Those who know well this Mensa member know fully well that his keen intellect and fierce competitiveness are matched by state-of-the-heart compassion and a conscience that just won’t quit.

So who the heck am I to turn away Scavelli’s idea for a column -- "I can give you 10 or more topics" -- especially when I’m desperately dry of ideas. (That’s what 90ish temperatures in Florida every day for the past week -- and visiting most every "beach" on the golf course -- will do to ya.)

In no particular order of importance, but in reverse numerical order just for fun, here are the Top 10 Industry Topics by Steve "Flash" Scavelli As IMed to Apar’s Working Weekend (with my annotated comments italicized in parentheses):

10) Retailer choices for sourcing product and wholesaler competition limited to the point of damaging not only retailers but also consumers. (It’s easier to document damage to retailers than to consumers, who have been largely reticent if in fact they are feeling underserved.)

9) Rampant sales of bootleg videos (i.e. illegal, copyright-infringing copies) never adequately addressed year after year. (Conventional wisdom holds -- as with shrinkage at retail due to shoplifting and damaged goods -- that rights holders assume and accept a certain loss of revenue due to piracy; rationalizing it would cost them more to fight it than it’s worth. The good fight in this regard will have to come from the grassroots, namely organizations such as the Video Software Dealers Association.)

8) Shortage of retail owner/operators who actually work their stores on nights and weekends, when they make most of their money -- would a restaurateur not work the tables at night? (To this I’d add... those who do work the store but don’t engage customers for research and goodwill purposes, and those who have store hours more convenient to their own lifestyle than to customers.)

7) Revenue-sharing that just doesn’t work, especially with so many retailers selling off "extra" rental copies sideways, and/or under-reporting their rental turns. (What else can anybody say, except this is the industry’s dirty little, worst-kept secret?)

6) Lack of an industrywide, nationwide awareness campaign. (The obvious prototype is "Got Milk?" but suppliers tend to argue if it’s not title-specific, as their current advertising already is, it’s not effective. We may never find out if they are right unless a grassroots campaign gets off the ground.)

5) Canadian sellthrough-priced DVD and VHS copies pouring into the Northeastern U.S. (Remember NAFTA?)

4) Breaking street date, a common practice by many retailers on VHS, and now even more so on DVD. (It’s unfair, and also unenforceable and uncontrollable. If anybody could easily solve this, it wouldn’t persist. Some retailers mistakenly believe there is something illegal about street date violations, which are not covered by legislation of any kind. It’s strictly a matter of industry self-regulation. Documenting the degree of damage to respectful retailers who feel victimized by street date violators is problematic.)

3) Sideways selling. (If you need this explained, consider yourself fortunate. Suffice it to say it’s a perverse byproduct of "Video-Voodoo Economics.")

2) VHS rental programs. (The mother of all home video trade complaints.)

1) DVD pricing. (A marginal problem.)

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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