LAS VEGAS -- Attendance at last month's Video Software Dealers Association convention here was off by more than 15%, but a full complement of supermarket video executives was there, and the show was described as successful by most exhibitors.
The decline -- to 10,125 attendees from 12,000 last year -- was because of consolidation at all levels of the business, said VSDA officials. Next year the VSDA show will move to Los Angeles -- the association's headquarters are there as well -- and will be held July 8 to 10, shedding one day from its traditional four-day run.
Los Angeles was the site of a very successful 1996 show that featured huge parties, including three on studio properties.
"After talking to a lot of the exhibitors and others, we think we can accomplish everything in three days that we are currently spending four on," said Jeffrey P. Eves, the VSDA's president. "So that may make it easier for a lot of the people that attend."
The number of exhibitors declined slightly this year, to 350 from 370, while exhibit space went down proportionally, to 110,000 square feet from 115,000. Last year's show was also held in Las Vegas.
Eves said the VSDA and its new show partner, Advanstar Communications, Cleveland, will completely re-evaluate the convention following this year's event. The VSDA, which is in charge of the show's content, including seminars and speakers, is looking for ways to make the show more attractive to classes of trade other than specialty stores, especially supermarkets, he said.
"We have had good representation, but we would like to have much larger representation. So I think we need to develop some new programs specifically to address the unique issues of supermarkets. That is an element we are going to look at," he said.
The annual supermarket breakfast at this year's show, sponsored by Warner Home Video, Burbank, Calif., saw a 20% increase in attendance, to 120 from 100 the year before. The event was co-hosted by the VSDA and SN, New York.
Exhibitors reported that a strong -- perhaps the strongest in the history of the show -- contingent of supermarkets attended this year. A precise breakout of supermarket attendance was not available, but among the retailers seen at the show were several Kroger Co. divisions, Pathmark Stores, Randalls Food Markets, Albertson's, Smith's Food & Drug Centers, Wegmans Food Markets, Tops Friendly Markets, Hannaford Bros., K-VA-T Food Stores, Bashas' Markets, Giant Eagle, Grand Union Co., Schnuck Markets, Seaway Food Town, Nash Finch Co., Fred Meyer Inc., Meijer Inc., Wakefern Food Corp., Coborn's, Dierbergs Markets, Copps Corp. and National Markets.
In addition, most of the larger intermediate suppliers to supermarket video programs were in attendance, including BlowOut, Marbles, Movie Exchange, Major Video Concepts, Video III, B&M Video, Ring Leader Video and Family Media Group.
Echoing the comments of many, Eric Parkinson, chief executive officer of Plaza Entertainment, Los Angeles, said the attrition in the retail ranks at the show was mainly the result of a decline in the number of "mom-and-pop" video stores. "We have met with major grocery chains here at the convention; you've got the major accounts here," he said.
"We've had a steady flow of supermarket accounts coming in," said Ray Gagnon, senior vice president of sales for national accounts at Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Beverly Hills, Calif. "They are interested in what we are doing for business, how to relate products. What we need to do is to go back and make it easier for them to buy into what relates to them."
Like every other type of retailer in the rental business, supermarket representatives spent a good deal of time at this year's show trying to find out more about new revenue-sharing and copy-depth programs.
"I've been trying to get as much information as I can about the revenue-share programs," said Clifford Feiock, video coordinator at Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis. What he learned did not make him happy, he said. "I was very happy with the SuperComm program before, but the new program [offered through a distributor] is not what I want. It's just a totally different program."
"The show is very informative," said Darlene Kiefer, services coordinator at Seaway Food Town, Maumee, Ohio. "A lot of programs are still being formed. Everything is changing so much, we don't know if we'll be able to continue revenue-sharing. We have to explain our position to the studios while they are still deciding issues."
Mostly because of dramatic changes in rental distribution, "there is more excitement in the meeting rooms than on the show floor," said Randy Weddington, video specialist at Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. "More people are interested in learning about the issues than in getting autographs. The business is so unstable right now that the better educated you are, the better your chance of survival."
"The retailers who attended this year's show were present to see a significant shift in the video-rental business," said Des Walsh, vice president and general manager of SuperComm, Dallas. "We believe that we are about to enter a golden age for supermarket rentals because retailers will be able to offer great copy depth on a vast range of revenue-share titles and dramatically increase their overall rental revenues."
Many exhibitors interviewed by SN commented on the decline in traffic at the show but also pointed out that most of the important accounts they needed to meet were there.
"This is a slow show," said Robin Montgomery, executive vice president of Bonneville Worldwide Entertainment. "However, for us the business has been excellent. There are more chains coming to sit in meeting rooms to write and talk about fourth-quarter business."
Columbia TriStar Home Video, Culver City, Calif., devoted its booth space to performances by a group of dancers from the "Riverdance" show. At the same time, the studio conducted private meetings off the show floor. Some observers said this combination of entertainment and business was indicative of the future of the VSDA show.
"The show for us has been very positive because we have been able to turn the corner and not just have it be the most glitzy, but provide real value for everybody involved," said Paul Culberg, executive vice president of Columbia TriStar.
"Certainly, there is more action upstairs than downstairs, which is in keeping with an industry that is consolidating," said Tom Heymann, vice president for enterprises at A&E Television Networks, New York. "We will continue to see more consolidation, and we all have to try to create more excitement on the floor level. The traditional way of doing things on the floor has got to change if we are going to get the value for our dollars."
"Overall, a lot of people have the feeling that the show is in need of change, and maybe next year you are going to see some of that," said Ken Graffeo, senior vice president of marketing for PolyGram Video, New York. "The show's format may have run its course. Do we need the booths? Do we need this kind of forum? Is there another way to do it?"
The most important purpose of the show is for top executives to meet with retailers, which doesn't always happen under the current format, he noted.