BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Supercenter store #100 here had sale displays of two Buena Vista Home Entertainment DVDs, "The Cider House Rules" and the Jet Li title "The Defender," four days before their Aug. 15 street date. Such violations are not uncommon throughout the industry, but store #100 is a special case -- it's located across the street from Wal-Mart's general office.
When notified of the situation, the official on duty -- assistant store manager Doug Vaske -- said that the store "doesn't make a practice of breaking street dates" and added that "we can certainly pull them off the shelves." Tom Williams, Wal-Mart spokesperson at their general office, said "the items in question were vendor serviced, so a vendor put them on the shelf."
"Cider House," with a $32.98 suggested retail price, was displayed at $22.95, while the $29.98 "Defender" was offered at $19.96.
The titles were not displayed at other Northwest Arkansas Wal-Mart Supercenter locations in Rogers, Springdale, or Fayetteville, nor in the Springdale Sam's Club. Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market operations in the area do not stock DVD.
"Most street date violations are unintentional," said Bill Bryant, vice president, sales, grocery and drug, Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn. "Many times an employee will be unaware of corporate communication about the correct street date and doesn't read the message on the bright orange tape -- studios place bright two-inch tape around the entire box with a clear statement about the appropriate street date."
"When I complained about a past violation," said Craig Hill, video specialist, Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., "a Wal-Mart manager told me that when a DVD shipment comes in, it doesn't have a street date printed on it, so they can break street date anytime they want." This belies the concept of day and date release.
This incident may not be corporate policy, Hill feels. "I'm sure it's a foul-up at the store level that doesn't have anything to do with the corporate office, but I'm also sure they're not pressing the point. It's not a pattern throughout but if it's not Springdale, then it's Rogers, and if it's not Rogers, then it's Bentonville."
Violations have been occurring in the VHS market as well. "'Erin Brockovich' was for sale last Thursday [Aug. 10, five days before street date] on VHS at the Wal-Mart in Poteau, Oklahoma," said Hill. "Their initial shipment was gone before ours were even out for display."
One indication that early DVD sales could be deliberate is a Wal-Mart policy change. "On one early title I sent a manager to buy a copy and get a receipt," said Hill. "The receipt had the name of the movie on it. The next time it happened, all the receipt said was 'Mass DVD,' so they're not putting the titles on receipts any more."
Repercussions from suppliers could result. "Studio penalties may include the loss of co-op and marketing development fund advertising," said Bryant, "and/or receiving the next major sell-through release after street date."