From Vegas...


By • Jul 1st, 2000 •

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Coming soon to a “theater” in your home. That’s the theme of the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) convention held July 8-10 2000 at the Venetian Hotel and Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Based on what we saw, the future is widely varied but most probably violent. Demonstrating the impact of recent advances in technology, the VSDA Conference incorporated the First Annual DVD Festival as well. For those who have DVD players, or will be buying one soon, you may want to know that the next generation is already on its way.

There are two unmistakable trends that mark the future of entertainment. One is the advances in technology that will enhance full sensory integration in programming and gaming. Driven by increased computer power, bigger, better, brighter, clearer are all evolving at a phenomenal rate. This is good news for audiences/participants and better news for the industry that develops and sells new products. There are no upper bounds in sight and the market will continue to grow. The second trend is Asia. If you want to know the state-of-the-art in entertainment look to Hollywood. If you want to know where Hollywood is going, look to Asia.

The distributors on exhibition at VSDA ran from the industry giants, Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Columbia Tristar, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, and Playboy, naming but a few, to small independents trying to sell video products made on a shoestring.

There were also numerous companies that supply supplemental materials. Most had a direct interest in video distribution, but some did not. When questioned as to the relationship between a massage device called Rejuvenator Plus and the Home Theater, the salesman freely acknowledged there was none. However, he said, there are a lot of people with tired feet from wandering the massive, and only slightly padded concrete floors of the convention center. This was a good opportunity to show his wares. Not to be outdone there was a massage section for convention-weary feet and backs, and another booth for shiatsu chairs.

Ever heard of Australian Gold? One surprise encounter was to find several tanning companies represented. We learned that 12 percent of all video stores already have some form of alliance with these tanning companies. That number has been increasing at approximately one percent per year and given the huge number of video outlets, this is not considered a trivial market. It is not just the tanning devices that are of interest but the support products that are sold along side of the videos. I guess this is a way for couch potatoes to look like they have spent time in the great outdoors.

Other displays included multiple candy distributors, carpet salesmen, surround sound, barcode devices, posters, toys, trading cards, and packaging materials. If you don’t know how to insure that your videos are returned, there were distributors for new, high-strength return containers that dissuade teenagers from absconding with your product. My personal favorite was the Act II popcorn booth. They were providing samples of a new “Corn on the Cob” microwave popcorn product that tastes somewhat better than the traditional buttered version. I think we can all agree that microwave popcorn does play a prominent role in home entertainment.

Even the US Government participated. Recognizing pressure from private delivery services, the US Postal Service had a booth and employees were actively hawking their services as an excellent, cost-effective method for product dissemination. My recent experience with them supports their claims. In fact, one lady from the USPS listened with apparent interest when I relayed the story of how I acquired a free high-end radio based on the inept handling of another delivery service with a similar name.

Did we mention violent? Yes, wrestling products were quite prevalent. I have bad news for those who believe that the outrageous antics of professional wrestling have reached their nadir. Far from it. There is still a long ways to the bottom. By Japanese standards the WWF is tame and almost mundane. The Japanese entry into the field, the Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling, or FMW, spews forth a great array of new props and techniques. Imagine fighting in a ring constructed with electrified barbed wire and surrounded by broken glass, nails, and other ugly accouterments. When an unworthy opponent is dropped onto the wire, sparks fly profusely and there is little doubt that the contestant is actually burned in the process. Care is taken to insure that the viewer is convinced that the injuries are real and not a product of carefully hidden fake blood capsules.

In addition, they legalize knives, sickles, ropes, and even profusely spit incendiary substances at one another using traditional carnival fire-breathing techniques. As Steve Menkin, the Director of Filmed Entertainment for, the American distributor, told me, Japan has long led the way in advances in use of props and pyrotechnics while establishing the upper or lower boundaries (depending on your point of view) for wrestling entertainment.

Wrestling is not the only area in which the Asian producers have made significant inroads into the American film industry. Many will know the work of Hong Kong director John Woo who introduced US audiences to Asian superstar Chow Yun-Fat in such movies as ÔThe Killer’ and ÔHard Boiled’. Now that Jackie Chan has become a truly international phenomenon, many of his earlier films are available on DVD and video. Tai Seng Video Marketing is promoting many of these products from which you will recognize several emerging stars. Further, you can also see Asian scenes that have been reshot in American cinematic releases, often by the same director. If you don’t believe it check out the works of John Woo, Sammo Hung, and others. You will see direct transfer from their Asian films, such as ‘The Bride with White Hair’ to the recent Hollywood productions including last year’s blockbuster, ‘The Matrix’. Hong Kong created slow motion depiction of fast action sequences (bullets that travel at the speed of molasses) and extraordinary human capabilities (running up the walls and flying kicks).

Not all offerings contained excessive violence. Living Arts displayed an extensive product line comprised of various forms of yoga, qigong, and massage. Winstar provided offerings from healing tapes of Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil, to Brighter Baby, on to Vampire films, John Woo, and back to meditation with Thick Nhat Hanh. Other distributors concentrated on the educational market providing support material for students.

Animation was also big. Again this seemed to be an area led by Japanese production companies. Basically the offerings mimic films with real actors. They run from action, to comedy, drama, and even soft porn. Central Park Media claims to be “the first name in Japanese animation.” They call it Anime. They also have an interesting motto on many of their works. It is “World Peace Through Shared Popular Culture.” That was advertised on ‘Sprite’, a video that contained nudity and adult situations. The picture was clearly meant to titillate and were they human actors, it would be dangerously close to kiddie porn.

It should be noted that some industry business is also conducted. For instance, there is intense competition between video sales and pay-per-view television. The video sales people are concerned that early entry of top movies on pay-per-view lowers their revenue. Many people would simply tape the program and settle for a second generation copy. According to Ray Jewell, an agreement was reached in which production companies would delay release of new films and provide video sales companies a 45-day head start. There was also considerable concern about intellectual property rights. Those are ubiquitous with any recording industry.

This year the VSDA’s Honored Guest was the legendary, Academy Award winner, Gregory Peck. A true luminary in the field of motion pictures, nothing else need be said. There were a host of more mortal stars who periodically graced the hall providing autographs and photo ops. I caught “Rising Young Star of the Year” Frankie Muniz posing with his canine partner from ‘My Dog Skip’. Both were so well behaved!

Just down the hall from the main gallery was a plastic surgeon’s paradise: the adult entertainment section. (The work of surgeons was also on display at the private industry parties). While guards were appropriately placed to keep young peering eyes at bay, the traffic to that area seemed fairly heavy. Not my personal taste, so I chose against visiting the displays. Still, the women who traversed the hallways left little to the imagination of what was on view in this section of the VSDA.

All was not floor time and work for the erstwhile attendees. There were parties galore and seemingly everyone attended at least a few. The trick is to find out who is holding parties and then wrangle an invitation. The VSDA itself threw one of the biggest and best parties at the 4th floor swimming pools of the Venetian Hotel. It was a complete evening of great food and live entertainment. Smaller, more exclusive parties were thrown all over The Strip. At the Anchor Bay party at Rumjungle at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino I saw Crispin Glover (‘Back to the Future’ fame) as well as directors George Romero (‘Night of the Living Dead’) and John Landis (‘Animal House’). I asked Romero if he was considering the return of (FIR’s editor) Roy Frumkes. “As a zombie? Again?” “Yes,” I said. “You could call it “The Return of Roy Frumkes.” Romero loved the idea, so I expect Roy will be getting a call soon to reprise his role.

I heard Warner Bros. threw the best party; but alas, your servant could not get in to everything. Maybe next year I’ll get an invitation in the mail. (I heard Warner Bros. was giving out invitations to anyone stopping by their booth!) So task yourself, should you choose to attend next year’s convention, to scout parties out. Be tenacious and it will be well worth your effort.

The big trend is clear. DVDs have arrived and are here to stay. Our two laserdisc players and numerous laserdiscs are now relics. DVDs are unstoppable. Within a very short time DVDs will move from a position of emergence to one of dominance. The shift is already noticeable in major video stores. It was also obvious at this convention. In fact, don’t be surprised if you see a name change for home entertainment delivery stores. I’m not sure which title will capture the industry’s imagination, but something will replace the notion of a place that predominantly dispenses videos. The bad news for all of us with video players is, in the foreseeable future, they will go the way of Beta when the VHS format conquered the field.

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