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Anger as NBC Hypes TV Shows on Videos

Commercials on video? N-o-o-o problem. Until now, that is.

There hasn’t been much of an outcry from the public or dealers about commercials added to the beginning of videocassettes such as “Top Gun” (for Pepsi), maybe because viewers can simply fast-forward past them. But RCA/Columbia Home Video has disturbed the relative peace with promotions placed on copies of three new movie tapes, “Vice Versa,” “Switching Channels” and “School Daze.” These aren’t ads for soft drinks or candy bars--they’re spots hyping three of the new shows on NBC’s fall schedule: “Baby Boom,” “Dear John” and “Empty Nest.”

It may be a while before the full impact on video fans can be discerned, but it took little time for video retailers to register their reaction. Industry publications report they’re irate.

“I’m very angry,” one Wisconsin dealer told Billboard magazine. RCA/Columbia’s action is “like saying, ‘Don’t go out and rent a movie--stay home and watch an NBC-TV show instead.’ ”

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What has the dealers heated up is that they weren’t warned about the blurbs. And that means they weren’t able to pass on the warning to customers renting or buying the tapes. According to at least one source, that’s already causing negative feedback at the rental level. An executive with the East-Coast Erol’s chain told Video Insider that “we’ve had a number of calls from managers of our stores, who said that customers were complaining.”

RCA/Columbia, already in trouble with many dealers over a new distribution setup that many of them don’t like, isn’t apologizing. But it is explaining.

“There is a method to our madness,” executive vice president Gary Khammar told Billboard. “The revenues we are earning from NBC for this are being turned around to buy incremental television time to advertise home video,” he said.

Since RCA/Columbia is partly owned by General Electric, which also owns NBC, the trade-off was “a natural link,” Khammar said. He said dealers were not notified because the arrangement was made just before release--an explanation that did not go down well with some retailers, who pointed out that a few phone calls to distributors could have taken care of that problem.

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In any case, Khammar added, his company does not plan any more NBC spots on upcoming fall/winter releases, which include “Willow,” “Short Circuit 2,” “The Blob” and “Vibes.”

It’s almost time again for the American Film Institute’s annual Video Festival. This year, director Ken Kirby says, the emphasis will be on “race and civil-rights issues.” The highly praised PBS documentary “Eyes on the Prize” will be shown in its entirety, plus 10 to 11 hours of other films and videos relating to the topic.

Also part of the event, which runs Oct. 27-30, will be 12 hours of independent works stressing minority film/video makers, examples of Soviet TV, Latin American student video, Swedish drama and Dutch art-video. For information on costs, panels and scheduling, call (213) 856-7787.


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