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Columbia TriStar Streamlines Distribution

23 Apr, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has become the third major studio to cut back its distribution network, telling wholesalers at the National Association of Video Distributors confab in Santa Monica, Calif., that only Ingram Entertainment and VPD will get to carry its product by the end of summer.

Studio executives aren't talking, but sources say Columbia TriStar intends to begin selling directly to some of the larger rental chains and feels two distributors are enough to handle the rest.

Baker and Taylor, WaxWorks and Flash Distributors will no longer be allowed to sell Columbia TriStar product.

Also being cut out of the loop are sellthrough distributors, or "one-stops," like Eurpac, KSG, Entertainment Resources and Alliance.

Two years ago, Warner Home Video was the first studio to tinker with distribution when it yanked away rental videocassette sales from wholesalers. The studio in September 2000 launched Warner Rental Direct and tapped Ingram for fulfillment. Warner Rental Direct is now effectively dead because the studio no longer releases rental-priced cassettes.

In October 2000, Universal Studios Home Video pared down its full-line distribution network to Ingram, VPD and Rentrak, with the now-defunct Valley Media allowed to handle sellthrough cassettes and DVD only.

Two of the distributors shut out by Univeral, Flash and ETD, promptly filed suit in federal court, alleging antitrust and First Sale Doctrine violations and collusion. ETD subsequently got out of the video business.

No distributors would comment.

Observers say Columbia TriStar has several high-profile titles in the pipeline -- including upcoming theatricals Spider Man, Stuart Little 2 and Men In Black 2 -- and yanking these video releases from all but two wholesalers could have a detrimental effect on the non-annointed distributors' business because each title represents a "unique market," meaning there is no replacement title.

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