Amazon Opens First Non-Grocery Retail Store Outside U.S.

Amazon has expanded its non-grocery (i.e. Whole Foods, Amazon Go) retail footprint outside the United States. The e-commerce behemoth opened a 4-Star retail location south of London. The brick-and-mortar brand sells merchandise (devices, consumer electronics, toys, video games, movies books, kitchen, home, etc.) that have received at least a four-star rating (out of five) online.

Amazon opened its first 4-Star store in 2018. It now operates 35 locations in 16 states in the United States. Store aisles correspond to specific sections of the website, in addition to “most wished for,” “most gifted” and items trending locally. Amazon switches out merchandise based on customer feedback to keep up with retail trends.

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“Amazon 4-Star is designed all around customer discovery,” the company states on its website. “We are an extension of Amazon.com, and have filled our stores with familiar product groupings like you would see online.”

Fandango Unites TVOD Services FandangoNow and Vudu Under Vudu

Fandango has officially announced the combination of its two transactional movie and TV content services Vudu and FandangoNow under Vudu.

The newly updated Vudu replaces FandangoNow as the official movie and TV store on Roku. (Vudu uses Roku Pay.)

The new Vudu service will offer more than 200,000 new-release and catalog movies and TV shows to rent or buy digitally, including the largest collection of 4K Ultra HD titles and thousands of titles to watch for free with no subscription required, according to the Fandango press release.

Vudu, which was acquired by Fandango in 2020, is available in more than 75 million U.S. TV-connected device households, according to The NPD Group. The service has more than 60 million registered users and serves millions of consumers daily across smart TVs, connected devices, mobile and online, according to the release.

“At Fandango, we’ve been building a digital network that super-serves tens of millions of fans across the entire entertainment lifecycle, from movie and TV discovery with Rotten Tomatoes, to our three theatrical ticketing apps and now an even larger scale Vudu on-demand streaming destination,” Fandango president Paul Yanover said in a statement. “During a time where consumers have a myriad of viewing options, we’re proud to deliver a service that presents an unparalleled library of content, many titles that are not available on subscription services, and the flexibility to pay as you go.”

“Consumer excitement for premium video on-demand has grown significantly as users turn to streaming to access the latest movies and TV show releases,” Tedd Cittadine, VP of content partnerships at Roku, said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to continue our long-standing partnership with Fandango as we build a future where all TV will be streamed by creating a seamless experience for users to discover and enjoy premium video-on-demand releases.”

Vudu delivers multiple 4K Ultra HD audio-visual experiences, including premium formats such as Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision and is available on Samsung, LG and Vizio Smart TVs; the Roku platform; Amazon Fire TV; Apple TV; Xfinity X1 and Xfinity Flex; PlayStation; Xbox; TiVo; and more. Other benefits include personalized deals with “Mix & Match” bundles; family-friendly features such as “Kids Mode”; tools to manage digital collections, such as list-building; and the ability to transfer physical discs to digital.

“By bringing its two services together on Vudu, Fandango will be able to rapidly innovate and make bolder, faster enhancements to benefit consumers and partners, especially important during an ever-changing media landscape,” read the press release. “Vudu’s size, reach and breadth of content, paired with Fandango’s scale in theatrical ticketing, will provide even more opportunities for studios, brands and marketers to reach a massive high value entertainment audience.”

Starting now, FandangoNow customers can transfer their accounts and movie and TV collections to Vudu. Access to their libraries will thereafter be provided through Vudu. The Movie Store and TV Store on Roku devices will automatically update from FandangoNow to the new Vudu.

Vudu, as was FandangoNow, is part of the Movies Anywhere cloud-based library service.

Amoeba Hollywood (Music) Reopens at New Location After Year Hiatus

Amoeba Hollywood (aka Amoeba Music), one of the last big packaged-media retailers, has re-opened after a year hiatus in a new location in West Los Angeles. The location at 6200 Hollywood Blvd. is holding initial temporary hours everyday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (buy counter open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) with limited store capacity due to the pandemic. Face masks are mandatory.

Old Amoeba Music store

Opening day (April 1) events included a special design created by L.A. artist Ivan Minsloff. Customers get a limited-edition poster as a gift with purchase, with silkscreened T-shirts available for purchase in the store while supplies last.

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Opening day line to get into the new Amoeba store

With locations in Berkeley (site of original store in 1990), San Francisco (1997) and Hollywood (2001), Amoeba sells new and used selection of Vinyl LPs, CDs, DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies, posters, books and related memorabilia.

“We’re still carrying everything that we had carried before, so we’re more than just a record store, the music, and movies, the posters, T-shirts, games, toys, lunchboxes, you name it,” Amoeba Music co-owner Jim Henderson said in a media statement.

DEG Panel: Transactional Business Still Hardy — and Poised for Takeoff

Despite being squeezed by the pandemic, the transactional business is still sturdy and is poised to take off once new releases in the pipeline grow from a trickle to a steady stream.

That’s according to Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox, and Eddie Cunningham, the former Universal Pictures Home Entertainment president who now runs Studio Distribution Services, the Universal-Warner Bros. disc distribution joint venture. The two executives spoke on a virtual DEG Expo panel March 24 moderated by Media Play News publisher and editorial director Thomas K. Arnold.

As industry pundits have observed, content in the transactional arena, which includes physical disc and digital purchases and rentals, dwarfs what consumers can find via subscription or other streaming services. That content has helped the transactional business survive recent jolts, the executives said.

Even the Blu-ray Disc and DVD business, which has been steadily declining for the last decade, remains a viable business, Cunningham said.

“In 2020 despite a pandemic and despite all the pressure of retail closures around the world … and pretty much no new releases after the first couple of months of the year — there’s still a $7 billion retail market, globally,” Cunningham said of the disc business.

“Obviously the last few months, there haven’t been that many new releases. But as that starts to come back in the second half of this year I think you’re going to see a real resurgence,” Smith added, noting that Redbox, with kiosk rentals driven by new releases, is looking forward to a more consistent flow of new content.

Cunningham said he’s been getting a similar message from the big retailers.

“Everybody’s incredibly excited about the new releases starting to come back into this business,” he said. “And I think we feel good about the fact that the big retailers … seem very, very committed to this category. We’ve got new titles every single week. We spend marketing money. We drive people into stores. We introduce fun. We introduce theater into the stores. … So a lot of them are pretty excited about us getting back into the new-release business. … Maybe we could even find a way of sort of growing this [physical] business or certainly hugely flattening the decline over the next year or two after the numbers we made during the pandemic.”

In the meantime, Cunningham said catalog has been picking up the slack, with such series as “Harry Potter,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Office” and even children’s stalwart “Curious George” selling well despite streaming availability.

“If content is available on subscription services, you can still sell a lot of content physically on those same franchises,” Cunningham noted.

“Then there’s a huge amount, about 40% of consumers, who’ve never ever until this day ever transacted digitally, so they’re a huge target for us,” he said, adding “I think physical’s going to be around for a long time to come.”

The disc rental business, which Redbox dominates with thousands of kiosks in the United States, is here to stay as well, added Smith.

“We obviously have a view that it’s going to be sustainable for the long term,” he said. “It’s a great value to consumers. It’s incredibly convenient. … The fact that we’ve got 41,000 kiosks around the U.S. really helps with that. I think what we’ve been able to do is augment that experience. We’ve got this massive loyalty program with over 37 million people in it, and so we’re rewarding them for behavior and then rewarding them with things like free content and so it gives up a great opportunity for us to reinforce that value ecosystem.”

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Redbox marketing makes sure to let consumers know when new releases are available and doesn’t discriminate between the different ways a consumer might access content. The company offers consumers both physical and digital transaction options, letting them choose.

“We’re communicating with them on a regular basis in terms of what are those [new release] movies, and again, however you want to watch it, physically or digitally, we can be there to serve you with that,” he said.

Even though the company is offering a digital alternative, physical transactions aren’t suffering, Smith noted.

“Even when our customers started to transact digitally, it didn’t mean they stopped transacting physically,” he said. “They actually started transacting physically more. It reminded them again of all these great new movies that are available.”

As head of the disc distribution joint venture, Cunningham said he’s tasked with creating efficiencies and providing a focus on the physical business. The joint venture’s mantra is “two plus two equals five,” to make a bigger whole from the combined parts, he said.

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“The coming together of Universal and Warner and other third-party distribution partners is going to enable us to do things like share boxes coming out of Technicolor, which in turn saves a lot of in-store labor, transport costs and so on,” he said. “I think we’re in a position to start maybe talking a bit more again about some front-of-store displays in some of these big retailers where we’ve lost that.”

Two plus two equals five also means finding ways to leverage the studios’ combined content.

“Over the next year or 18 months you’re going to see some amazing things coming out of [the joint venture],” Cunningham said. “There’s going to be huge opportunities on Middle Earth, DC, Bond, classic monsters. It’s actually the 90th anniversary of Dracula coming up, so we’ve got an opportunity around anniversaries. ‘Fast and Furious,’ ‘Jurassic,’ ‘Dune,’ ‘Halloween,’ there are huge opportunities to draft off these kinds of things.”

He also envisioned boxed sets of titles from different studios as an added bonus for consumers.

“We’re going to work incredibly hard to see how we can put the two studios’ content promotions together and make something bigger,” he said.

Redbox, too, is looking to combine the advantages of different businesses. In addition to its digital and physical transactional offerings, the company also has ad-supported streaming and even a content acquisition and production arm.

“In terms of Redbox Entertainment, we have a ton of data obviously about what actors work, what genres work, and so what we want to do is say, ‘OK, we’re seeing a little less product from the studios, let’s go ahead and buy it, acquire it, produce it ourselves,’” Smith said. “We’re basically making sure that we program to our consumers what we know they are going to want. And we’re agnostic so we’re releasing it across all the digital retailers and then we’re actually selling it to streamers as well on the backend. We just want to make sure there’s good content made for consumers.”

Fandango Spotlights Jodie Foster Filmography; Its Rotten Tomatoes Celebrates Women

Fandango is spotlighting Jodie Foster fresh off her Golden Globe win for The Mauritanian, and its Rotten Tomatoes site is celebrating women in entertainment for Women’s History Month.

The Mauritanian was released March 2 as a premium VOD rental on Fandango’s transaction VOD sites Vudu and FandangoNow.

Foster, who recently won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for The Mauritanian, is spotlighted in Fandango’s latest video featuring performers and filmmakers breaking down moments from their work. Foster takes a look back at memorable scenes from her filmography, including Taxi Driver, The Silence of the Lambs, Little Man Tate, Contact and The Mauritanian.

Each is available for rent or purchase on FandangoNow and Vudu. Additionally, FandangoNow has a curated list of Foster’s films.

Meanwhile, Fandango-owned Rotten Tomatoes is celebrating Women’s History Month, featuring interviews with female directors Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid), Gina Prince-Blythewood (Love & Basketball) and Alma Har’el (Honey Boy), who all share their lists of 10 movies everyone should watch this Women’s History Month.

Rotten Tomatoes is also paying homage to the work of women in Hollywood with its Women’s History Month hub, housing viewing guides including the Best Movies Directed By Women in the 21st Century and Fearless Women Movie Heroes Who Inspire Us. Lists highlighting fearless women on TV and streaming and first-time female directors, among others, are set to publish throughout the month.

The female-led films highlighted are available for rent or purchase on Vudu and FandangoNow. Titles can be found in the Celebrating Women’s History Month section of Vudu, and are presented on FandangoNow in the playlists curated by Rotten Tomatoes.

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CES Keynoter Best Buy CEO Corie Barry: No Reverting Back to 2019 Behaviors

Consumers’ move to digital experiences and expanded store services is here to stay, said Best Buy CEO Corie Barry during her Jan. 12 keynote at the virtual CES.

“There isn’t a world where people revert back to their 2019 behaviors,” said Barry, who took over as chief executive of the retail chain last year.

She noted that her dad during the pandemic learned to order groceries for curbside pickup and is now “more comfortable with curbside in general.”

“It’s this comfort level more than anything else that will continue to push the envelope,” she said, adding “customer expectations will be raised in terms of what they can get done digitally.”

Best Buy instituted curbside pickup within the first three weeks of March as the COVID-19 outbreak began, she noted.

“People took immediately to more digital means [of finding products],” she said.

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Also as the pandemic hit, products such as computers, webcams, and computer speakers were in high demand, as were home theater and gaming products.

One surprise was “how much people needed to be entertained at home,” she said.

Online sales grew 174% in Q3, with 40% of items picked up in store or curbside.

Going forward, she noted, “the store is going to have a massive role in fulfillment” of online orders.

Still, the in-store experience is important, especially in helping customers with complex technical problems.

“Our stores play a really vital role in that,” Barry said.

While some companies were concerned about the effect of the pandemic on their bottom line, Barry said that at Best Buy the view was to the customers’ experience and how it set the chain up for the future.

“We knew if we took care of them today, in the moment, that would be really important for our brand in the long term,” she said.

‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,’ ‘Elf’ Top Favorite Holiday Films in Redbox Customer Survey

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was the top classic and Elf the top post-2000 film in a Redbox customer survey on favorite holiday movies. The survey of 402 “engaged Redbox customers” took place Nov. 9-15.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a 1989 comedy film starring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, a man who loves Christmas but whose plans to give his family the best Christmas ever are repeatedly spoiled by everything from a trapped squirrel to a Scrooge-like boss. Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid and Juliette Lewis also star.

Elf, directed by Jon Favreau, is a 2003 comedy with Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who was adopted and raised by Santa’s elves. When he discovers he’s not a real elf he travels to New York City to meet up with his real dad, a curmudgeonly book publisher.

Survey results were:

What is your favorite classic holiday movie?

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  2. It’s A Wonderful Life
  3. A Christmas Story
  4. Home Alone
  5. A Charlie Brown Christmas

 

What’s your favorite tradition around the holidays?

  1. Watch holiday movies
  2. Put up holiday decorations
  3. Cook holiday meals
  4. Listen to holiday music
  5. Buy presents

 

Which is your favorite holiday movie made since 2000?

  1. Elf
  2. The Polar Express
  3. Seuss’ The Grinch
  4. Love Actually
  5. Bad Santa

 

Redbox is running a “Merry Movie Nights” promotion, featuring holiday hits at the Box, including Last Christmas, Christmas Under the Stars, Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, Elf and The Nightmare Before Christmas; Christmas classics and family favorites On Demand, including The Polar Express, Home Alone, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and How the Grinch Stole Christmas; holiday romances On Demand, including The Holiday, Love Actually, Last Holiday, Serendipity, The Best Man Holiday and Just Friends; and “Not Really Christmas Movies,” including Die Hard, Edward Scissorhands, Gremlins, Why Him, Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone and Trading Places.

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Redbox also has holiday movie channels, holiday music and a yule log fireplace channel coming out soon for Free Live TV.

Adobe: Cyber Monday Spending Up 15% at Record $10.8 Billion

E-commerce sales on Cyber Monday (Nov. 30) set a new revenue record, topping $10.8 billion, which was up 15.1% from $9.39 billion during the previous-year period, according to new data from Adobe Analytics. The tally was below Adobe’s projected $12.7 billion estimate, which cites statistics from 80 of the top 100 online retailers.

Observers contend online spending on one-day sales events has been expanded by big-box stores throughout the year in response to Amazon Prime Days — tempering somewhat the impact of CyberMonday.

“Throughout the remainder of the holiday season, we expect to see record sales continue and curbside pickup to gain even more momentum as shoppers avoid crowds and potential shipping delays,” Taylor Schreiner, with Adobe Digital Insights, said in a video statement.

Regardless, consumers are increasingly using smartphones to conduct online purchases, with 40% of transactions on Black Friday and Thanksgiving conducted on portable devices. Adobe found that in-store and curbside pickup of online purchases increased 52% from last year.

ADI’s John Copeland said portable devices were used 60% of the time by people visiting and browsing retail websites buying assorted items such as toys and video games.

“It’s clear consumers have gotten a lot more comfortable shopping from their phones,” Copeland told CNBC, adding that top-selling items on Cyber Monday included limited availability of new game systems from Sony PlayStation and  Microsoft’s Xbox, as well as titles Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Spider-Man: Miles Morales.

“If you can get them, you should grab them,” Copeland said.

He said social media is increasingly driving consumer traffic to retail websites, underscoring the power of so-called “influencers” and click advertising.

“Thanksgiving weekend through Cyber Monday, social media has driven 1-in-10 visits to retail websites,” Copeland said. “That’s 17% greater than last year. Retailers are figuring out how to leverage all the digital channels.”

As COVID-19 Surges, Black Friday Crowds Don’t

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed this year’s Black Friday retail shopping frenzy, in which hordes of shoppers typically camp out overnight waiting for stores to open early on the morning after Thanksgiving — or, in recent years, start shopping right after they finish their turkey dinners.

Not this year.

With COVID-19 surging in what health experts are calling a third wave of the disease, none of the big retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day — not even Walmart, which used to be open all day, or Target and Best Buy, which opened for business in the late afternoon or at midnight.

The big retailers also began offering their deep discounts several weeks before Black Friday, often targeting online shoppers with Web-only specials. And the year’s hottest gift item, Sony’s new PlayStation 5 video game console, saw gamers glued to the Internet to watch for alerts on Twitter and other social media channels about the next wave of consoles available at the various retailers, mostly for online purchase.

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“One thing that is happening, and has been happening for awhile, is the past couple of years, we’ve seen Black Friday deals moving more and more online,” Amir Neto, director of Lutgert College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University, told USA Today. “This year, there are more incentives to maintain or expand this trend.”

Adobe Analytics on Nov. 27 reported that online spending on Thanksgiving Day rose by nearly 22% to reach a new record of $5.1 billion, from $4.1 billion last year. The research firm said November and December online sales are expected to jump 33% this year, totaling $189 billion, including $10.3 billion on Black Friday.

Aside from the big retail players, Family Video, the last remaining national chain of dedicated video stores, sent out an email early Friday morning offering discounts of up to 75% on Warner Bros. DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and 4K Ultra HD titles, including Aquaman, The Dark Knight, Inception, Doctor Sleep, 12 Strong and Annabelle. “You will not find better Black Friday deals on Blu-rays, DVDs, and 4K Blu-rays from Warner Bros. anywhere else!” the Family Video email read, noting that the sale ends Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, with physical stores having offered discounts all week, reports on Black Friday itself suggest the early rush to physical retail stores is more of a trickle this year. A Target store in Costa Mesa, Calif., was practically empty shortly after 7 a.m. on Nov. 27. “It looks like any other day,” said one observer.

Target is running a buy-two-get-one-free promotion on books, movies and music. Blu-rays and DVDs could be had for as low as $4, $7 and $9. Signs were placed not only in the electronics area, but in some stores displays were put in the clothing section in the center of the store and at checkout. One customer in Mission Viejo, Calif., noted that the sales weren’t as prevalent as previous years.

At a Costa Mesa Best Buy, there were fewer than two dozen people waiting in a socially distant line, a far cry from prior years.

In Oceanside, Calif., a Walmart was a little busier, but the traditional DVD and Blu-ray Disc “dump bins,” featuring catalog movie titles priced as low as $2 to $5, were conspicuously absent. “It’s really slow,” a clerk said.

The movie aisle at an Oceanside, Calif. Walmart on Black Friday 2020, shortly before 9 a.m.

Chicago resident Maria Lopez, who often shops on Black Friday, said she was only visiting one store this year out of concerns of contracting the coronavirus. Lopez bought a 42-inch television from Best Buy.
“It’s so sad,” Lopez told the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve been out since 6 a.m. and there were no long lines. It’s definitely not the same like years prior.”

And yet the National Retail Federation earlier in the week  forecast that total holiday sales during November and December would be up by as much as 5.2% from the same period last year, generating $755.3 billion to $766.7 billion in revenue. The data, which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compares with a 4% increase in 2019, and an average holiday sales gain of 3.5% over the past five years.

“We know this holiday season will be unlike any other, and retailers have planned ahead by investing billions of dollars to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers,” Matthew Shay, CEO of the retail trade group, said in a statement. “Consumers have shown they are excited about the holidays and are willing to spend on gifts that lift the spirits of family and friends after such a challenging year.”

NRF expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, will increase between 20% and 30% to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, up from $168.7 billion last year.

“Given the pandemic, there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend, but with the economy improving most have the ability to spend,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.

Redbox is participating in the Black Friday discounting frenzy with specials across all its platforms, physical as well as online. Through the weekend, the retailer is offering customers who rent two discs at its more than 40,000 kiosks 50 cents off, as well as “price drops” on digital rentals through Redbox On Demand. Redbox also is hosting a used movie sale at “select kiosks,” selling off previously viewed copies of films such as Trolls World Tour ($3.99), The Tax Collector ($5.99) and Justice League ($3.99).

On the streaming front, NBCUniversal as a Black Friday special offered 20% off access to the Peacock subscription streaming service, while Hulu launched a discounted $1.99 monthly promotion at midnight on Thanksgiving Day. The campaign gives new and returning subscribers 12-month access to the ad-supported Hulu option, which amounts to a $48 savings over the recently reduced $5.99 monthly fee (from $7.99). The ad-free subscription plan remains priced at $11.99 monthly.

Additional reporting by John Latchem and Stephanie Prange

Family Video Launches Promo to #SaveTheVideoStore

As it struggles during the pandemic, Family Video, the last major video store chain, is launching a promotional campaign called #SaveTheVideoStore to drum up consumer support.

With the help of studios and Hollywood talent such as Clerks director Kevin Smith, Family Video is bowing the campaign to celebrate physical media and generate nostalgia for the video store.

“Our plan with this campaign is to not hide from the stark reality that our business has been affected by streaming, COVID and just about everything else this year,” said senior brand manager Derek Dye. “We are hoping to pull at the heartstrings of physical media fans, video store fanatics and movie lovers as a whole to support us in this difficult time for our business.”

The campaign runs Nov. 9 to 22, boosted by a video of support for the chain from Smith, whose Clerks famously included scenes at a video store. But the major push is at the store level.

“We are going for a very grassroots initiative with our stores making signage, posters, painting the windows of our stores to get the word out,” Dye said. “We think that strategy along with the help of media outlets could help us immensely to drive traffic and awareness to our stores.”

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Battered by the pandemic and other hardships, the chain has shut down about 200 of its approximately 500 stores. It now has 300 stores in 17 states.

“It’s been a difficult year,” Dye said.

The nostalgic nature of the video store has not been lost on pop culture, even at a streaming service that is supplanting it, Netflix. Family Video has figured in previous seasons and will be featured prominently in the next season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”

Family Video T-shirt

The chain has been successfully selling Family Video retro-looking T-shirts to supplement income and capitalize on the nostalgia for video stores. Family Video has sold more than 700 of the T-shirts at $19.78 (1978 was the year the chain was established). In support of the new initiative, the chain is also selling a new  #SaveTheVideoStore shirt.

“Everybody has a fun memory of video stores,” Dye said.

He hopes the public will get the message that this institution is in trouble and needs fans to come in and support it.

The plea of the campaign, Dye said: “We need your help to save the video store.”