What we once called the home video industry is approaching its 50th birthday. But while the concept is still the same — consumers getting to watch what they want, when they want, on demand — what we now call home entertainment, dominated by streaming, bears little resemblance to those early days, when the only way to watch a new movie was to run out to the nearest video rental store and watch in on cassette on the family VCR.
Back then, the business was dominated by thousands upon thousands of mom-and-pop video rental stores, which have virtually disappeared over the last three decades. But many of the pioneers who ran these stores — or worked at the studios and independent home video companies whose primary business at that time was selling these “rentailers” VHS videocassettes at $65 a pop — are still around.
Jodie Francisco, a Sherman Oaks, Calif. realtor whose own home video career ran the gamut from distributor to studio rep, is hoping many of those home video veterans will show up at the upcoming Video Industry Reunion, scheduled for Sept. 12, beginning at 5 p.m., at the Valley Inn Steakhouse and Bar at 4557 Sherman Oaks Ave. in Sherman Oaks.
“Currently, there are nearly 100 people saying they are either coming or interested,” says Francisco, whose own home video career began in 1983 at a national distributor called Metro Video. “I was able to get a block of rooms at the Marriott Courtyard in Sherman Oaks, which is about one block from our venue.”
Among the well-known names slated to attend the reunion are Dave Mount, the former chairman and CEO of WEA; Rand Bleimeister, who held senior executive positions at such companies as Columbia TriStar Home Video and Nelson Entertainment; Janice Whiffen, a sales executive at Media Home Entertainment and Vestron Video; and Wayne Mogel, the former president and CEO of Star Video Entertainment.
Francisco has fond memories of those early days in home video. “It was like the Wild Wild West — anything goes,” she recalls. “I remember doing video presentations with Ninja dolls because the movies I was promoting at the time were so bad. I have such fond memories of those years, and as we are all getting older, I wanted to create an event to share memories and good times.”
Francisco organized the first Video Industry Reunion in May 2017, with about 75 people in attendance. A second reunion was held in June 2018, “and we had another great turnout,” she recalls. “We also did a FaceTime with Dave Mount, who was celebrating his 75th birthday and couldn’t make it in person. The first two events saw everyone from presidents and CEOs from the studios and indies to distributors, studio reps and retailers.”
“I don’t remember why I didn’t do one in 2019, but then the pandemic hit, so we did two Zoom meetings and had about 30 to 40 people attend virtually. I got inspired to bring back the in-person reunion this year because we’ve lost so many of our friends and colleague during the pandemic that I felt it was high time to meeting in person again.”
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Francisco says that when she began her career in home video 40 years ago, “the business was exploding. I worked at Metro Video and we were opening up new stores on a regular basis. We would take the owners through the warehouse with a shopping cart, and pulled titles off the shelf. It didn’t matter what it was; they just wanted more product! Later, when I moved to being a studio rep, the company I worked for was selling ‘D’ type movies, and they were not of great quality — but my creative presentations allowed me to get the product into the distributors and, ultimately, the retailers. Later on in my career I was intrigued by the internet and all that it had to offer and likened it to the beginning of the video industry. It was the Wild, Wild West all over again.”
For more information on the 2023 Video Industry Reunion, visit the event’s Facebook page or contact Francisco at email@example.com.