NEW VSDA SHOW FORMAT STARTS TO CATCH ON

LAS VEGAS -- After years of evolving from a large, glitzy exhibition show, the Video Software Dealers Association Home Entertainment 2003 event appears to have settled into a smaller format based on scheduled meetings in hotel suites.This year's estimated attendance of 4,600 to 4,800 was a far cry from the 13,300 reported in 1996, and was up 15% to 18% from last year's 4,000, according to knowledgeable

LAS VEGAS -- After years of evolving from a large, glitzy exhibition show, the Video Software Dealers Association Home Entertainment 2003 event appears to have settled into a smaller format based on scheduled meetings in hotel suites.

This year's estimated attendance of 4,600 to 4,800 was a far cry from the 13,300 reported in 1996, and was up 15% to 18% from last year's 4,000, according to knowledgeable industry sources at the show.

The number of supermarket chains attending was up sharply from last year's show when no more than a dozen were spotted by suppliers. This year, there were at least 20, including such heavy hitters in video as Albertsons, Giant Eagle, Schnucks and several Kroger divisions. Meanwhile, Stop & Shop was at the show talking to suppliers about its multicategory entertainment sections, and H-E-B was planning a major sell-through initiative, suppliers said.

"The show's a great place to interface with the studio executives and to help them understand how they can help meet our needs as a business so we can meet the needs of our customers," said Mike Isom, senior category manager, photo, Albertsons, Boise, Idaho.

The improvement at this year's show was due to several factors, said Bo Andersen, VSDA's president. One was attendees' greater comfort level with the suite format. Another was the addition of more entertainment options. Yet another was the change in location to one of Las Vegas' biggest and newest hotel-casinos, the Venetian. "Our members are in the entertainment business, and they want to be entertained. It's only right," Andersen said.

Supermarket and supplier executives interviewed at the show by SN focused on the business aspects of the event.

"I've always said this is the type of show this organization needed to evolve to -- it needs to be a meeting show," said Denis Oldani, director of video, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis. "The show floor never meant a whole lot unless you were looking for popcorn or candy or things like that. The real business gets done in the meetings, and that's why I think this is a good thing," he said.

"I've found it to be very productive," said Brad Ufer, video merchandiser, Coborn's, St. Cloud, Minn. "We're getting a lot of business done."

Echoing comments she made a year ago, Brenda Vanover, director of video operations, K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va., said, "I still like the show floor better than the suites." HIT Entertainment, Allen, Texas, had productive meetings, many with supermarket executives, said Debbie Ries, senior vice president, sales and marketing. "But it is kind of sad not to have the big hoopla on the floor that we used to have in years gone by," she said.

"It's a different show that is more about relationship building," said Kelly Sooter, head of domestic home entertainment, DreamWorks Home Entertainment, Glendale, Calif.

"It's much better," said Paul Richardville, director of video, Reasor's, Tahlequah, Okla. "I like the way they are doing it with the suites. It's wonderful to get one-on-one with the different companies."

Chuck Porter, director, Iggle Entertainment and Video, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, said, "We've had some very productive meetings."

At Goodtimes Entertainment, New York, Bill Sondheim, president, estimated that 10% to 15% of the customers his company met with are supermarkets. "That's a positive for us," he said.

The new meeting format at the VSDA show is ideal for supermarkets because they don't have as much "visibility" with the major video suppliers, and "this is an opportunity to get in front of some senior executives," Sondheim said.

"There seems to be an increased presence by supermarket companies," confirmed Michael Arkin, senior vice president, marketing, Paramount Home Entertainment, Hollywood, Calif.

Rodney Satterwhite, vice president, retail business development, Warner Home Video, Burbank, Calif., reported meeting with at least 13 different supermarket and drug store chains. "They have come in with very tight agendas with three or four key issues, so it gives us a lot of work when we go back to come up with solutions," he said.

Supermarket participation at the show was "encouraging," said Steve Beeks, president, Artisan Home Entertainment, Santa Monica. "It's long been our objective to expand into that marketplace because it is a marketplace that is necessary for the growth and health of the [video] industry," he said.

"There's a whole lineup of supermarkets that we have been meeting with because we feel there is untapped opportunity with the supermarkets at this point," said Tracey Garven, vice president, domestic marketing, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, Culver City, Calif.