Blockbuster forms exclusive distribution deals -- The video chain negotiated with Trimark and Universal to obtain ''Lolita'' and ''Still Breathing''

By Troy Patterson
February 12, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Is this what they mean by a Blockbuster Night? On Feb. 9 Adrian Lyne’s scandal-tainted Lolita will arrive on video. Now, here’s the news: It will be available exclusively at Blockbuster, the chain that won’t carry NC-17 movies and once refused to stock the R-rated edition of 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. Irony aside, the deal — part of Blockbuster’s attempt to solidify its market dominance by negotiating exclusive rights to a range of independent films — has sent a ripple through the industry. Lolita and about 35 other films were acquired from Showtime (owned by Blockbuster parent Viacom). Others have come from studios, production companies, and film festivals. Such as the 1998 Brendan Fraser romance Still Breathing (Universal’s October Films) and The Curve, an as-yet-unreleased comedy starring Felicity‘s Keri Russell (Trimark).

According to Blockbuster exec VP Dean Wilson, the goal is to expand the stores’ offerings, not to snatch hot properties from studios. ”I’m not going to try to out-Hollywood Hollywood,” says Wilson. As Bruce Apar, editor of Video Business, sees it, the chain is looking to create its own buzz: ”The sheer display of 60 copies [of Still Breathing] makes somebody who doesn’t know about the movie want to rent it.” And since video stores rarely binge on such low-profile films, the consensus is that these deals will translate to larger audiences.

Nevertheless, other retailers are up in arms about the ”exclusive” arrangement. Last month, the board of the VSDA, the industry’s trade group, requested — to no avail thus far — that Blockbuster CEO John Antioco ”reconsider” his dealmaking. A rival exec suggested that retailers might make a show of strength in ”retaliating against Trimark and Universal” by boycotting titles. Citing past cases of such behavior, Apar says he wouldn’t be shocked if Blockbuster’s foes lash out. ”The only thing that surprises me,” he says, ”is that Blockbuster wasn’t doing this years ago.”