Monday, January 24, 2011

Chart Hyping and The Increasing Power of the Supermarkets

In the latest UK Blu-ray Review Podcast I have a bit of a whinge about the fact that Amazon now effectively own the film world, with only the super-markets offering any sort of competition.

Amazon totally dominate online shiny disc sales, they now own the biggest film resource The Internet Movie Database (or imdb as it's better known), and last week added LoveFilm to their acquisitions so that they now pretty much own film rental too.

I have no idea what the Monopolies Commission does these days, but I'd have thought this is just the sort of thing they should be investigating. However, I suspect that they'll be pointing out that there's always HMV (which announced the closure of 60 stores a few weeks ago and had its supplier credit insurance guarantees removed last week) and the supermarkets.

The idea that the supermarkets offer any kind of alternative to 'proper' shiny disc stores is laughable. Each week they take just two of the tens of titles released on Blu-ray each week and decide to stock them and promote them.

When I worked in the record industry for a few short years, I was shocked to find that we actually paid money to get showcased in the New Release racks in HMV. If we didn't cough up we were consigned to the alphabetic racks which most casual buyers never look at.

Worse, if we hoped to be flagged as one of four 'Single of the Week's in Our Price we actually had to delay a release until a slot was available. Yup, these slots weren't chosen - they were sold in advance to the record labels who felt they had most chance of a genuine chart hit if they paid out enough cash to become visible to potential purchasers

I don't know how the supermarkets work, but I'm pretty sure that the two new titles they select each week are not based in any way on merit, or appropriateness for their market, but on how much money the distributors are prepared to pay to be visible. How else to explain a family supermarket like Sainsbury's choosing a torture-porn title from the makers of Saw over a family classic (beautifully transferred to hi-def) like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

When I launched the podcast I wanted to give a rundown of the best selling Blu-rays each week. The only chart that can make any sort of claim to provide this is the official one from The Official Chart Company. The trouble is it's controlled almost totally by the hyped titles being sold in the supermarkets. I can predict without fail which new entries there will be each week, based solely on checking what two titles Sainsbury's and Tesco's have chosen to stock in any given week.

And that's just wrong!

My local Sainsbury's have their own chart, which doesn't even pretend to reflect any kind of reality. This morning for instance it shows two new entries of The Other Guys and Devil, both straight in at no.1 and no.2. These titles only officially go on sale today, and aren't even out on the shelves of the store displaying this chart yet. So how can they be top of the Sales chart? It's farcical.

I'm wondering if I should just put together my own chart, based on my own reviews. Far too many great Blu-rays are getting completely ignored because the supermarkets won't stock them, Amazon aren't promoting them and those who made them can't afford the back-handers involved in getting greater visibility.

It all reminds me of an old saying from my former record label boss, when I used to complain at the back-handers and the fact we spent a fortune flying our acts in from abroad for free Radio 1 Summer roadshow performances we weren't paid for, when despite having Top 10 hits the BBC STILL refused to add our chart hits to their playlist.

We were in the endlessly farcical situation of having the BBC tell us our records 'are too dance, not enough pop' to be played on Radio 1, while Kiss FM would tell us 'you're too pop, not enough dance' to get on Kiss. Call me cynical, but I'm pretty sure the real reason was that we just couldn't afford to grease the right palms at either of those organisations where decisions were made.

I remember my boss telling me "It's called the music business, Ian. And it's all about the business, and nothing to do with the music.". It seems the movie (and shiny disc) business is no different. Naive of me to think otherwise I guess.


Steve Langton said...

Seems it's always about business, Ian. Our local Sainsbury's doesn't carry many Blu's, other than big releases such as Potter, Twilight and Inception and never more than one title at a time.

Way past time these charts were scrapped, or certainly revised re they way they are compiled. Thanks for highlighting this both here, and in your podcast.

JLTan said...

I enjoy movies, but do not have as much time for them as you. Thank you for sharing your findings. God bless.