Reflecting changes in customer sensitivities and the growing maturity of supermarket video business, most retailers will carry the rental title "Pulp Fiction" in great depth when it is released Sept. 12. However, few retailers will promote the R-rated title beyond the boundaries of the video department. Although "Pulp Fiction" was one of the most honored films of last year, grossing $107 million at the box office, it is also a violent movie containing much strong language. It's the kind of movie most supermarkets would have stayed away from even five years ago, said industry observers. "I ordered 'Pulp Fiction' yesterday and I am going into it very heavily -- as heavily as any other major hit," said Bill Glaseman, video specialist at Bashas' Markets, Chandler, Ariz. "A lot of people saw it in the theaters and a lot of people are going to rent it." Said Carl Johnson, video specialist at Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., "I think it is going to be the best title, at least for September. There is a demand for it. We've had people asking us for this movie since March." The movie is being received well by supermarket video executives for three reasons: · It is a quality film that performed strongly at the box office and there is considerable pent-up demand for its video release. · Retailers have encountered few objections to carrying this kind of film in recent years. · What concerns they do have are over violence and language. The movie has minimal sexual content and its cover art is unobjectionable. The movie's honors include an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, seven Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture, MTV's Best Picture Award and the Best of Festival Award of the Cannes Film Festival. It is being released by Miramax Home Entertainment and distributed by Buena Vista Home Video, Burbank, Calif., a Disney subsidiary. It will be available through the two shared-revenue, pay-per-transaction companies, Rentrak, Portland, Ore., and SuperComm, Dallas, which is another Disney subsidiary. The Boogaart Retail division of Fleming Cos./Scrivner Group, Concordia, Kan., will put about 10 copies in each of its bigger stores, said Matt Dillon, video director. "We bought it in about the same range as other A titles," he said. But the retailer will not promote it. "Promoting this type of movie isn't really appropriate for grocery stores, but you've got to have it. You are going to have people who will want it," said Dillon. Because the title is available from the shared-revenue companies, some retailers have greatly increased the number of tapes that they will bring in. "Our orders will triple over what we normally would have bought," said Johnson of Harp's. With shared-revenue programs, retailers pay a small fee to acquire a tape and then share the revenues with the supplier. Harp's will put up posters in its video departments, but doesn't plan on further promotions. "We will let customers know that we are going to have the movie, but we are not going to over-push it. Some people might get upset about it. So we are going to let word-of-mouth carry this movie for us," said Johnson. SuperComm customers have ordered 30 to 80 copies per store of "Pulp Fiction," noted Des Walsh, vice president and general manager.
"The majority of retailers are bringing it in in great depth, but they are not necessarily promoting it aggressively in terms of print advertising. Many are promoting it in-store, and we have several retailers who are promoting it as their guaranteed-to-be-available title of the month," said Walsh. Among the retailers known to be testing or using the SuperComm system are Randalls, Pathmark, Safeway, Kroger Co., Winn-Dixie, King Soopers, Fleming Cos., Price Chopper, Dillon's, Haggen Inc., Marsh, Fiesta Mart, Nash Finch Co., Harp's and Food Giant, according to distribution sources. "No supermarket is going to aggressively promote 'Pulp Fiction,' " said a video distribution executive who asked not to be identified. "They don't want to endorse it -- and aggressive promotion is tantamount to an endorsement. They are going to buy it, they are going to buy it heavy. It is going to be out there in good depth of copy, but they are not going to make any unusual statements." White's Discount Stores, Johnson City, Tenn., leaves decisions on rental inventory up to its supplier, Selectrak Family Video, Hillside, Ill. "I'm paying them to do what they do best, and that's to drive the maximum amount of dollars through our store with their expertise," said C.E. Pugh, director of operations. "But if it shows up, I'm not going to call and say, 'I don't want it,' " he said. "We'll be bringing in just enough to take care of the customers," said Sandy French, video coordinator at Thrifty Food Stores, Burlington, Wash. Thrifty will bring in four to five copies per store where otherwise it would order six to 10 copies of a top rental title, she said. The violence in the movie is her biggest concern. "It's something that you have to be really careful of in grocery. Then if we label it 'For Mature Audiences,' we can get away with it," French said. Thrifty will probably highlight the movie in its regular rental advertisements, she said. Some intermediate suppliers are encouraging their supermarket accounts to put in strong depth of copy on "Pulp Fiction," but with warnings about the movie's content. " 'Pulp Fiction' is one title that we are leaving up to the stores," said Gregg Wright, president of Video III, Orem, Utah, a company that racks departments for Safeway, Lucky, Buttrey and Smitty's, as well as supply some Longs Drug Stores. "In most cases, though, we are finding that the stores are accepting it. We probably will be carrying it at full tilt," he said. "The cover is tame and not offensive. We will probably have a sticker available to highlight the violent content of the movie so parents are aware of what is there," Wright said.
Bill Idler, territory manager of
Video Management, Tacoma, Wash., which services 95 rental departments for Longs Drug Stores, Walnut Creek, Calif., said he will recommend that the stores take in a high number of copies of the title.
But, he said, "I am going to make a subnote advising the stores that it has very strong language, that it is a very violent film and to look at their individual situation before placing an order." "Pulp Fiction" is being embraced by supermarket video executives not only because it is one of the top video rental releases of the year, but also because there is less sensitivity to this type of movie in the supermarket environment. There is a growing callousness toward violence in the larger society, said some retailers. "It's a hardening of the audience," noted Boogaart's Dillon. "Speaking just for southern California, I think we are getting a little immune to the violence and the profanity," said Video Management's Idler. "With as much violence that's going on in the world, people are kind of getting used to it," said Thrifty's French. About 20% of her customers are offended by this kind of product, even if it is rated PG-13. "But if you label it properly, they are warned before they take it out," she said. Supermarkets have always been more concerned about the sexual content in R-rated movies than violence and language, said Video III's Wright. For example, stores that wouldn't carry "Basic Instinct" will carry "Pulp Fiction," he said. "So I don't think the sensitivities have really changed that much."