Retailers across the country ran wild violating the street date of "Jurassic Park." All classes of trade that sell videos, including supermarkets, were caught up in the most widespread and blatant case of street-date jumping yet. It started as early as 10 days before the official Oct. 4 street date of "Jurassic Park" and gained momentum through the weekend prior to the release date. "Retailers have broken street dates in the past, but this is the first time it's so widespread," said Tim Harrison, video supervisor for Food Giant Supermarkets, Sikeston, Mo. "Once started, this spreads as rapidly and as widely as an airline price war, or when supermarkets start double and triple couponing." Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" is the highest-grossing movie of all time at the box office, pulling in more than $900 million worldwide. Targeting the sell-through market with a suggested retail price of $24.98, it is expected to sell more than 20 million units.
Multiple industry sources
pegged Walgreens, Deerfield, Ill., as the main culprit in starting the stampede in many markets. Walgreens had reportedly asked for extra lead time to process the movie, sources said. Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Ark., was out front with the title in other markets. Executives from Walgreens and Wal-Mart did not return calls for comment. Supermarkets, mass merchants, toy stores, Blockbuster stores and even the sell-through specialty chain headed by the Video Software Dealers Association's top-ranking retailer officer soon joined in the frenzy to capture sales of the movie before they peaked. Supermarkets that respected the street date stood to lose 20% to 30% in sales on the title, said a distribution executive. "It puts you at a huge disadvantage, especially when the street date was Oct. 4 and some of the retailers put it out on the weekend," said John McCawley, buyer/merchandiser, Baker's Supermarkets, Omaha, Neb. "The weekend is the busiest time of the week. Also, it happened on the first of the month, when a lot of people have money," he said. "You can't blame this on a couple of overzealous, inexperienced clerks or someone that didn't know the difference between breaking the street date and keeping it," said a video specialist with a mid-sized Midwestern supermarket chain. "There was a concerted effort in these cases with 'Jurassic Park."'
Retailers and studios need street dates on video releases to coordinate advertising, promotions and shipping. In the past, there have been isolated occurrences of broken street dates on big sell-through titles, and the studios said they dealt with them on a case-by-case basis. But this time the dam broke. The Video Software Dealers Association planned to convene an emergency street-date summit in Los Angeles this month with studios, distributors and retailers to discuss the problem.
"Adherence to street date is critical to the orderly marketing of video product," said Jeffrey P. Eves, VSDA's president. "Without it, everybody loses the ability to effectively promote new product releases." Among the supermarket chains that broke the street date, according to sources, were Albertson's, Boise, Idaho; Kroger Co., Cincinnati; Harris Teeter, Matthews, N.C.; The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Montvale, N.J.; Schnuck Markets, St. Louis; and Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y. "As a whole, supermarkets are more loyal to street dates than the mass merchants," said the distribution executive, who provided SN with receipts from Wal-Mart stores dated Sept. 24 and Oct. 1. "But with 'Jurassic Park,' there was a domino effect nationwide. When street dates are broken, it is a calculated measure." Most supermarket retailers who confessed to breaking street date claimed they did so only to maintain their competitive edges against other early streeters in their markets. In some cases, it was a decision sanctioned by corporate executives. In others, it was made by store-level personnel, with or without the approval of top management. "We began selling the tape last week only because we found that some of our competitors -- others in our markets -- were selling it," said Paul Bernish, corporate spokesman for Kroger. "It was not a decision made at the corporate level. It was made at the individual store level." Isolated violations were a mistake at Harris Teeter, said Ed Cook, a spokesman. "We had one or two stores -- I don't know how many -- that inadvertently put the product out prior to the street date. We found out about it here [at headquarters]; we called the stores and asked them to pull the product off the floor," he said. Wegmans began selling the video on Oct. 3, according to a company employee. Spokeswoman Jo Natale said customers, particularly those who had prebooked the movie, were asking store personnel why Wegmans didn't have it when it was available from other area stores. "It was certainly a key title and not the kind you could keep under the counter, especially since it is a top Steven Spielberg production," she concluded. "We weren't selling 'Jurassic Park' before the street date," said Bill Vitulli, vice president of governmental and community relations at A&P. "If any stores were selling it before then, they weren't supposed to. With 1,150 stores in our company, we're bound to get a few that might have sold it sooner." Albertson's and Schnuck did not respond to phone calls for comment. MCA/Universal Home Video would not indicate what action, if any, it will take to discipline violators, but Maria Lamagra, vice president of publicity, said any decision will likely be made with the cooperation of distributors and other suppliers involved. "It is unfortunate, as well as very upsetting, that some retailers around the country chose to break the street date for 'Jurassic Park.' We are currently evaluating the situation and evaluating how to address the issue in the future," said Lamagra. Chris Murphy, associate director of the National Association of Video Distributors, Washington, agreed that the situation was serious. "We will join in the VSDA meeting in Los Angeles to discuss 'Jurassic Park' and other street-date violations because it has become an industry problem," he said.
Retailers who chose not to break street date for ethical reasons were angry at those who did and outraged at the studio for not enforcing it. Retailers who did violate the date said they were forced to do it to retain what profit margin they could. The video specialist from the mid-sized Midwestern retailer said his stores did not break street date, although competitors' stores did. "It's not right to go along with the street date on every other title and then say, 'Heck, if everyone else is doing it, I'm going to jump on in,' " he said. About half of the 360 mall-based sell-through stores of Sun Coast Motion Picture Co., Minneapolis, violated the street date, said Gary Ross, president. This is especially significant because Ross is the current chairman of VSDA -- the highest ranking retailer in that organization. "MCA was unable to keep up with the volume of violations and they were not able to stop them on a store-by-store basis. So, many Suncoast stores broke street date for competitive reasons," he said. Ross said he was worried about how his actions would be viewed by VSDA members. "It was a difficult decision. I get my paycheck from my company, Suncoast. And there are my store managers, whom I have to also satisfy. That's where the bread and butter is," he explained. Emotions were running high on what has become a rather volatile issue, but solutions were few. Some retailers suggested studios focus on just-in-time shipments of videos to rule out street-date violations. Others said studios should formulate a strict policy of reprisals for violators, taking away co-op monies or other benefits. McCawley of Baker's could see both sides of the issue. "Maybe it becomes the retailer's responsibility to honor that street date a little bit more. But that's really hard to do when there's a buck to be made, especially when the profit margin on a lot of these videos is nil to none," he said. "The studios, in general, don't do a whole lot for supermarkets. So who cares?" said Glen Fischer, GM/video buyer of D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich. "Why shouldn't we dump it out there early? We don't do it, because that isn't the way we operate. But a lot of retailers would take that attitude," he said.
What happened with "Jurassic Park" has brought the viability of the street date into question. Many retailers reason that if studios cannot enforce it, retailers should not be required to respect it. Retailers could put a video out the same day they receive it, thereby placing the burden of coordinating shipments on the studios and the distributors. "Down the road, street dating may no longer be viable if retailers decide to break the dating," said D&W's Fischer. Most in the industry, however, insist that street dates are a necessity. They enable retailers to prepare merchandising and promotional plans, while coordinating logistics. Most important, they allow time for the studio-generated hype to reach and influence the consumer.