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ECVS: Looking for the 2002 Home Stretch

9 Oct, 2002 By: Joan Villa

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Actor Jeff Daniels broke the ice at the East Coast Video Show with jokes and anecdotes about Dumb & Dumber, The Purple Rose of Cairo and his other films, but when it comes to video he gets serious.

“You sustain careers,” Daniels told the audience of about 100 retailers after accepting the second annual Independent Career Achievement Award from Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) president Bo Andersen.

“There's a different way to do it and it doesn't have to open on one screen in New York and L.A. and hope it goes to the hinterlands because it often doesn't get there,” he said later of his independent directorial debut, Escanaba in da Moonlight, which tracks the comedic exploits of a hunter who has yet to bag his first buck. Although set in Michigan where Daniels was raised and has a theater company, he struggled to get widespread recognition for the movie.

“We battled the distributors,” he recalled. “They would screen the film and say ‘Upper peninsula Michigan will enjoy it but nowhere else,' and we'd say ‘they hunt deer everywhere in the country.’

Daniels has bagged orders for 50,000 units already just through his Web site and an ad in a hunting magazine, he said. The film will be distributed by Monarch Video this month.

Opening the business session, Andersen said the industry reached a “high water mark” of $19 billion in rental and sales last year and is poised to exceed that in 2002. Although so far this year VidTrac data shows rentals down 3 percent in revenue and 5 percent in turns, 20 films totalling $3.1 billion in box office will arrive on video this fourth quarter to potentially boost video spending beyond last year, he added.

“If we fail to market and merchandise to reach that level, we'll be leaving your money on the table and that's a horrible thing to waste,” he said.

Although video faces competition, some of the expected threats such as video-on-demand may not cannibalize rentals and sales, Andersen added. “It has a chance of raising the packaged goods and the VOD business with the concept economists refer to as ‘more is more.’

However, facing the real threat of illegal downloading and file sharing on the Web, the industry must continue to urge legislation to protect copyrights with a device that would detect and delete an illegally copied movie file, he said.

“Retailers suffer more of the loss of the pirate dollar than do the studios,” he warned.

No final numbers have been tallied, but with “walk-up” registration ahead of last year, Andersen expects this year's ECVS will exceed the nearly 4,000 attendees at the 2001 event, held just weeks after 9/11.

“Everyone would like 2,000 more people to come but you have to be happy when things have an uptick,” he said.

Retailers at seminars and “town hall” meetings exchanged ideas on the proper balance of VHS, DVD and games, weighed the benefits of joining buying groups and debated subscription models. Some offered ideas for collecting extended rental fees and generating extra revenue from previously viewed product.

“We have signs – ‘Need Cash? Sell us your used DVDs and games,’ noted panelist Terry Field of Super Video. “It's a very profitable part of my business.”

Some exhibitors were disappointed in the turnout, however, saying the floor lacked serious buyers.

“Good thing we came here with meetings or we wouldn't have anything to do,” grumbled one independent video supplier. The show, he added, “is a shadow of its former self.”

But two-store owner Halsey Blake-Scott of Beyond Video said he enjoyed perusing the smaller independent suppliers “because that's who we do business with these days.” Since major studio films are a “must-have,” he doesn't necessarily need to meet with them at the show, he added.

The Oreck vacuum booth saw a few hours of early traffic which died off quickly as the day went on, said Nick Jackunas, national coordinator for trade shows, who's been coming to ECVS for six years but doesn't expect to be back. “There are not enough serious buyers here — a lot of people are here for the giveaways and the girls” in the adult section, he said. “We did better last year.”

But around the corner, Azuradisc was doing a brisk business selling two new machines to remove scratches on DVDs.

“We're real happy with the results,” enthused COO Bob Bauer. “The interest is great, DVD is taking off and PlayStation is driving the business.”

Retailer Jim Loperfido of Emerald City Video observed that the floor lacked booths for ancillary products.

“I came to buy a video drop-box but there are none here,” he said. “I'd like to see them try harder to get smaller diversified businesses other than video.”

The major studios with floor booths – Universal, MGM, Buena Vista, Paramount and Warner/New Line – could not talk officially with reporters, but one said they had a “major presence” with 10 to 12 people including the studio's VP of sales, and another said the studio would always support ECVS as long as VSDA continued it.

Although an exhibitor or two wondered if the show would go on another year, VSDA's Andersen said the association is committed.

“We haven't signed the contract but we're going to” for next October, he said. “We just need to finish some negotiations with the convention center.”

Andersen said the show will not move to a smaller venue such as a hotel as some on the show floor suggested, but will preserve the exhibit floor style “for as long as attendees and exhibitors prefer it.”

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