Little people ruled the convention hall at this year’s first-ever National Video Week in L.A., for video retailers and distributors. From the diminutive stars that drew lines of autograph seekers (Verne ”Mini-Me” Troyer promoting the holiday vid release of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and Jerry ”Lollipop Guild” Maren touting a remastered Wizard of Oz) to independent store owners grousing about predators like Blockbuster and Hollywood Entertainment, it seemed more a small, small world than ”a whole new ball game” (the show’s official tag line).
Attendance at the confab (an amalgam of the Video Software Dealers Association’s annual convention, the West Coast Video Show, and the newly formed Adult Entertainment Expo) exceeded expectations (1,900 more than 1998’s estimated 10,000). But the number of exhibitors dropped slightly, as did the interest of a few major players. Buena Vista, a past convention stalwart, led the no-shows that included Twentieth Century Fox, MGM, and Artisan. Many of them had off-site gatherings, but the glamorous extras they traditionally bring, like celebrity appearances, were missed and didn’t make indie retailers, who say they’re already being short-shrifted by the studios, feel any taller.
”Conventions have always rewarded us for making [the studios] a lot of money,” laments Lou Oliver, owner of Video Magic, a mom-and-pop operation in Toledo, Wash. ”We come mainly to see the stars. We attend the seminars, but the studio people aren’t listening to us.”
The complaints of the independents continue to center on revenue sharing, in which studios flood stores with discounted tapes for a share of the profits, leaving big chains, which have more buying power, at an advantage. ”Nothing we’ve done has been to the exclusion of any other business,” says Blockbuster rep Karen Raskopf. The Fairness Alliance of Independent Retailers disagrees. On July 21, two members filed class-action suits against Blockbuster and six studios (including EW’s parent Time Warner, which owns Warner Home Video), claiming their business practices give them a monopoly.
How can the little guys survive? The convention buzzwords were e-commerce (an estimated 10 percent of video buys in 1998 were made online) and DVD (2 million households have players, a figure expected to double by year’s end). Meanwhile, Troyer, an expert at taking on the big guys, has this advice: ”Stick to your guns and don’t back down.”