In contrast to the Persian Gulf War of 1991, when retailers saw a sharp and prolonged decline in video rentals, the war in Iraq has had little impact on video.
Some said rentals dropped for the first day or two of the conflict and then quickly recovered. Other retailers told SN that their rentals actually increased as customers sought alternatives to the deluge of war coverage on television.
"We are probably seeing an increase because it is bringing them into the store," said Bob Gettner, video buyer/coordinator, B&R Stores, Lincoln, Neb. "A lot of people mentioned to me that they were in the store getting movies because they were tired of watching the 24-hour coverage of the war," he said.
"We were shocked to find that our rentals have been higher," said Laura Fisher, video coordinator, Martin's Super Markets, South Bend, Ind. "When I looked at it more closely, a lot of kids' movies were being rented. I think the parents are trying to occupy their kids by giving them something else to watch" besides the war coverage on TV, she said.
"I hate to say it, but the war actually helps rentals because people want to stay home," said Theresa Daniels, video manager, McMaken's Supermarkets McVideo, Brookville, Ohio. She commented that she was uncomfortable with the idea of making money from the war.
Daniels saw no decline at all in the first days of the war. "People went out and filled up their gas tanks, and stopped by the video store," she said.
"They want to spend time with their family. They don't want to party quite as hardy. They are more family oriented." Some customers even canceled their spring vacation plans, and then came in to rent movies, she said.
There was no impact from the war at Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, said Chuck Porter, director, Iggle entertainment and video. "It looked like our business was down slightly the first week, but I attribute that more to the weather than anything else." After a long, bitter winter, the first warm weather coincided with the start of the war, and "people wanted to go outside," he said.
Porter saw no increase in video rentals during that period; however, "there was a slight bump in our newspaper sales that week because of the war." In weeks following, magazines were to come out with special issues about the war, and he expected a sales increase from that as well.
"I really can't detect a difference," said Bill Glaseman, video specialist, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz. Certain movies released around that time, like "8 Mile" and "Jackass," did very well, although the youthful male audience for those films might not be as interested in the television news, he speculated.
"I don't think it has affected us that much," said Denise Garner, video manager, McShan's IGA, Brady, Texas. "I personally have not seen any drastic change."
Some retailers reported to video distributor Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn., about an initial decline in rentals as the war began, said Bill Bryant, vice president, sales. "But the rentals returned as major announcements regarding the war decreased." There was no impact at all on sell-through, he said.
As the war goes on, "consumers will want a break from the news reports, and will particularly want to keep their children away from being overwhelmed by constant news pertaining to the war. As with 9/11, people will try to resume a normal routine to the best of their ability. There is no better form of relief than sitting down with your family and watching a movie," Bryant said.
The Video Software Dealers Association, Encino, Calif., confirmed that the onset of the war did not seem to have had a negative impact on video rentals, said Sean Bersell, vice president, public affairs. According to VSDA's VidTrac service, rental activity for the week ending March 23, which includes the first five days of the war, was up from the same period last year. The number of units rented was up approximately 4% vs. the same week in 2002, and rental revenue was up 2.5%, he said.
While there was a week-to-week decline of about 3% in revenues and rental turns, Bersell said this could have been due to the broadcast of the Academy Awards and to the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.