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TK's MORNING BUZZ: Can We Put the Thrill of Discovery Back Into Video Stores?

22 Jan, 2001 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Can we put the thrill of discovery back into video stores?

From a consumer's standpoint, the increasingly hit-driven nature of the home video business -- spurred by copy-depth initiatives and revenue-sharing that has seen some chain stores literally flooded with the hits, more hits and (practically) nothing but the hits -- has taken a lot of the fun out of going to video stores.

I remember back even to the mid-1990s, when video stores used to pride themselves on their selection, their variety. Even Blockbuster clerks would recommend titles you may have never heard of, and walking into a store like Kensington Video in my hometown of San Diego was like going into a candy store, with all sorts of strange delights and treats.

Now, it's Hitsville, U.S.A., and even while business is good, or at least holding steady, in many shops, you just don't find the same atmosphere any more. Video stores, for entertainment-minded consumers, have become just another destination, like the supermarket or drugstore, to which they come list in hand, knowing in advance what they want and fairly certain they're going to get it. Save-On rarely runs out of Dr. Pepper, and Blockbuster will have that hit you're looking for -- guaranteed.

Fortunately, there are signs of life emerging from this morass of sameness.

The VSDA convention's Filmmakers of Tomorrow series did an admirable job of introducing promising young filmmakers and their work to retailers, and just yesterday I received a kind note from Nora Jacobson, one of the independent filmmakers featured in the series (her film is My Mother's Early Lovers).

"I found the VSDA very useful and interesting," Jacobson wrote. "I made about 25 sales (not a huge amount) but its nice to know that my film will now be in video stores inIllinois, California, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington, besides my hometurf of Vermont and New Hampshire."

Now, that's encouraging. If we can somehow multiple Jacobson's experience -- and progress has already been made on that front -- video stores could find themselves with a bumper crop of alternative fare that won't cost an arm and a leg to bring in (most of this indie stuff goes for about $20-$25 a cassette), and yet which will help differentiate them from the Big Chain Store Down the Street -- or the Big Pay-Per-View Showing on TV.

Also at the VSDA convention, WaxWorks picked up copies of an independent film shot in Kentucky, the distributor's home state, with the intention of distributing it to regional retailers. And several other filmmakers report making sales, either to distributors or buying groups.

Don't get me wrong -- developing a pipeline of independent product won't revolutionize the home video business. It won't save marginal stores, and it won't replace the wall of hits so prevalent these days.

But a small but steady dose of indie fare, properly merchandised and marketed, might add a little incremental profits to the bottom line -- and a lot of spice and flavor to an industry once, but no longer, known for both.

Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com

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