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War Coverage Has Mixed Effects

21 Mar, 2003 By: Jessica Wolf

The week's initial attacks on Iraq had a mixed effect on rentals across the country, retailers said, with many commenting it's too early to tell what impact news coverage of the war will have.

News struck late in the evening on the East Coast. At Manhattan-based Alley Video, business was slow Wednesday night but perked up quite a bit Thursday, owner Alan Sklar said. Renters were picking up multi-disc sets in anticipation of continued war coverage on TV, he added.

“Our traditional neighborhood renters are saying ‘I just don't want to watch the war,’ Sklar said. “We're in a very anti-war neighborhood that tends to be very skeptical of the president these days.”

At South Deerfield, Mass-based Video Zone, business was also good the day after the United States' initial strikes in Iraq.

“Today [Thursday], business has actually been up,” said owner Todd Zaganiacz. “But I attribute most of it to the rain we are getting and the fact that the last three days have been beautiful, sunny and warm. However, most customers coming in were commenting they have seen enough of the war even though in reality it has just started.”

On the West Coast, where news of the first round of attacks and the president's short speech hit around 7 p.m., it was mostly business as usual, said Scott Whitmer, VP of Palm Springs, Calif.-based chain Video Depot.

At one store, business was slow, he said, but at most others business was “normal to a bit better.”

“Things didn't really start happening out here till around 6:30 or 7, and people had pretty much made their entertainment plans for the evening,” he said.

At Video Expo in Abilene, Texas, it was a ghost town Thursday afternoon. “It's been an hour and a half since my last customer,” said owner Robert Gwilt. “The news didn't seem to hurt us too badly last night, but it's been dead today, There's an Air Force Base nearby, so it's a very military city.”

Many retailers said it's really too early to tell whether or not the escalating war or the impending news barrage will help or hamper rentals. Gwilt said he's sure the customers will be back soon, and Video Depot's Whitmer said he wouldn't be able to really assess the impact at least until the weekend.

“I think it's early yet,” said Adrian Hickman of TLA Video in Philadelphia. “Last night [Wednesday night] was not bad, though I'm curious to see what happens over the next few days.”

Blockbuster spokesman Randy Hargrove also said it was too early to tell how the war's start had affected rentals. “I think we're going to have to see how that plays out, how in-depth is the coverage,” he said.

The rental surge that many retailers experienced in the weeks following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 may not emerge in response to this war, some retailers said, both because it may be over very quickly and also because the American public has been hearing about it so much during the past few months and is more prepared for the news coverage.

“The shock is not there from 9/11, where everyone was kind of in a daze for three or four days and then they needed to go out and get a little bit of comfort,” Hickman said.

Additional reporting by Enrique Rivero.

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