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TK's MORNING BUZZ: Universal's Dick Longwell -- the All-Business Man With All the Right Answers

5 Jan, 2001 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Dick Longwell had all the right answers in our extensive interview about Universal Studios Home Video's controversial move to pare down the number of distributors who carry the studio's product (see related story on the Hive).

He offered no apologies to the distributors who were shut out, and when asked whether he cared if the Uni move may hasten some borderline wholesalers' demise, bluntly stated it was a business decision and that he expects more distributors to fall by the wayside regardless.

The furor over the Universal move, announced way back in September, continues to cause rancor in the distribution community. From what distribution sources tell me, they are much more angry with Universal than with Warner Home Video, which was the first studio to pare down distribution, because 1) there was no advance word, 2) they took everything, not just rental VHS, as Warner did, and 3) they are encouraging retailers to switch accounts by offering them free DVDs. There was also a tiff, early on, when Ingram reps allegedly began calling other distributors' accounts on the very same day the shift was announced, using hard-sell techniques to get their business.

How did Ingram reps get these names and phone numbers, the have-not distributors wondered -- and are wondering still. At this point, it looks as though this question, and several others relating to anti-competitive issues, may end up in court.

But back to Dick Longwell. I have to applaud Dick and his boss, Universal Studios Home Video president Craig Kornblau, for agreeing to sit down with me in the first place for what was described in advance as a tough, no-holds-barred interview.

I also have to applaud Dick for not ducking the questions, for answering each one candidly.

The interview is not going to soothe ruffled distributors' feathers. Indeed, it may flare them up even more, particularly Longwell's nonchalant attitude about the effect the Uni move may have on certain wholesalers' very survival.

But at least it shows that even in this rapidly changing business, where allegations are constantly flying about secret talks and sweetheart deals and clandestine alliances, there's still a chance for some open dialog.

Dick was frank with me, and if anyone runs into him at the VSDA convention this coming week, I have no reason to suspect he'll be anything but frank with you.

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

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