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Will Blockbuster's ‘Statement of Frustration' Work?

12 Jan, 2003 By: Kurt Indvik

Blockbuster's decision a little more than a week ago to violate street date on Buena Vista Home Entertainment's Signs on a national scale sent shockwaves through the industry.

First, let's get past the idea that this action is one way that Blockbuster is responding to the recent lawsuit brought against it by Buena Vista, in which the studio alleges improprieties and discrepancies involving the now-cancelled VHS revenue-sharing agreement between the two companies.

Yes, the timing of Blockbuster's action and the choice of a title with which to make its “statement” have raised eyebrows. But there is no indication that street date violations for Signs were any more severe than any other hit title of late. Retailers responding to VSM articles on the topic and posting messages on the VSDA's discussion board, by and large, reported they saw very few violations. However, a few did report early, er, signs of Signs in some stores, and VSM staff caught at least one drugstore with Signs out on the floor almost a week early.

Blockbuster, though, is adamant that its action has no relation to the suit, and there's no point in wasting time and print space in refuting that. Blockbuster president Nigel Travis has stated he ordered the one-time action as a response to what the retailer saw as significant reports of street date violations for Signs, and as a way for Big Blue to make a major statement of frustration with what it sees as the continuous and pandemic practice by retailers of all sorts who choose to ignore the street date, and the studios' lack of resolve to aggressively punish offenders.

The street date issue has been with us for years. Indies point the finger at mass merchants as regular culprits (though indies, too, are sometimes caught in the act), mass merchants say offenses are sporadic and often the result of an ill-informed stock clerk; and studios say they deal with it appropriately on a case-by-case basis.

While I'm glad that Travis, who co-chairs the VSDA's Retail Advisory Committee, plans on bringing the issue front and center of the association later this month, I wonder if it was necessary for Blockbuster to choose such drastic means to make its point.

I agree with Mick Blanken, a former VSDA board member himself, who sent me a note the other day expressing his dismay over Blockbuster's move. While he said Blockbuster is not responsible for opening this Pandora's box, its action “risks tearing the lid completely off and creating chaos where the demons can no longer be contained at all.”

Let's hope this radical “statement” causes more good than harm in the long run.

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