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Warner's Rebuke of Electronics Boutique is Refreshing

23 May, 2004 By: Kurt Indvik

I think we can all agree that Warner Home Video's public rebuke of Electronics Boutique Games last week for its blatant, chain-wide breaking of street date for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and cancellation of all future product shipments, was refreshing.

Studios have, in the past, been chided by retailers for not doing enough to punish those who break street dates. But this was an instance in which the infraction was so large, the response from the retailer so blatantly, well, unresponsive, that Warner just had to lower the hammer and do so in as public a manner as possible.

I must say, EB certainly showed a lot of chutzpah in its infraction. It appears to have orchestrated a chainwide, 10-day jump on the May 25 street date for Return of the King and didn't seem to be terribly interested in responding to Warner's initial calls to cease and desist. Indeed, EB store managers reportedly were gleeful in their accounts to Warner execs on how well the title was selling, even as they refused to stop selling the video without orders from the mother ship. Those orders, apparently, hadn't come by late last week. The chain's president and CEO, Jeffrey Griffiths, went as far as publicly dismissing Warner's concerns during an investors call on Thursday, which must have been really galling to WHV.

Street-date violations continue to be an issue in the industry and were a topic for discussion during the last National Association of Video Distributors (NAVD) meeting. As more and more retail channels get involved in selling home video releases, it's bound to continue to be a problem, both from those inexperienced clerks who unknowingly bring out product from the store room before its time (at least that is the well-worn excuse we hear so often) and specialty retailers who ought to know better, who may feel they have to respond to the competitive damage if they hear of an infraction anywhere near them.

While most street-date violations do not result in drastic action by studios, it is important that suppliers begin to lower the threshold on when they will take action on street-date violators, or the concept of a street date will continue to degrade in the marketplace until a mild case of retail anarchy begins to set in — and then things will get really ugly.

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