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UPDATE: Blockbuster Says Early Move on 'Signs' Deliberate

6 Jan, 2003 By: Kurt Indvik

Blockbuster stores across the U.S. broke street date for Buena Vista Home Entertainment's Signs starting last Friday, Jan. 3, (the title's street date is Jan. 7), in response to what it saw as widespread street date violations beginning the day before, according to Nigel Travis, president of Blockbuster.

“We have a number of examples from coast to coast, both from retailers and rentailers,” of street date violations of Signs, said Travis, who added those reports were forwarded to Disney through the normal hotline channels. He added it was his decision on Friday to go ahead and advise all Blockbuster stores to put the title out on the shelves. “The reports [of violations] were coming thick and fast and so to be competitive we decided we should be releasing it on Friday as well.”

Travis would not name names of any offending retailers or rentailers that he said justified Blockbuster's action. On the VSDA discussion board, where many independents were angry about the move by Blockbuster, retailers there said they checked with a number of stores in their area, including the oft-mentioned biggest offender of street dates, Wal-Mart, and found no violations themselves. The title was unavailable until Tuesday at a local Southern California Wal-Mart when Video Store Magazine checked late in the day Monday. However, the title was spotted for sale earlier last week at a Sav-on Drug Store in Southern California.

Travis said that this unusual and massive response by Blockbuster to a street date violation of a title was not related to the $120 million lawsuit filed against Blockbuster by Walt Disney Co. last week over discrepancies Disney claims it has found in the VHS revenue-sharing deal it had (but now cancelled) with Blockbuster. “This has absolutely nothing to do with our dispute with Disney. It's totally unrelated,” he said. Rather, said Travis, it was a one-time “statement” on the part of Blockbuster over its “frustration” of repeated and continuous street date violations from both rentailers and major retailers and the studios' lack of action regarding them, in general. Blockbuster “will not make this a regular practice,” he said.

“I made this decision in full knowledge of the VSDA's view [to adhere to street date violations]. That VSDA policy is one that I fully support. We made a deliberate decision; it goes against the association's policy, but we did it for good reason.” Travis, a member of the VSDA Board of Directors, said he sent a letter to all board members on Monday explaining Blockbuster's actions. Travis said that the VSDA's Retail Advisory Committee, which he co-chairs, would be taking up the issue at its meeting at the end of the month, and he said he hoped Blockbuster's action would put the issue “front and center.”

A Buena Vista spokesman said the company was “looking into” the massive street date violation by Blockbuster and would have no further comment. However, industry sources say that privately Disney officials are extremely unhappy about Blockbuster's action and find it difficult to believe that the retailer's choice of studio and title were unrelated to the suit filed last week. Those same views were exchanged by retailers on the VSDA's discussion board.

“I imagine the Disney/[Blockbuster] legal fracas is at the root of it — power struttin' by BB!” wrote one retailer, echoing the supposition of several retailers on the discussion board.

No comment was yet available from the VSDA.

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