Q&A with EMA Chair Bob Geistman

(Expanded Version of the Q&A originally published in EMA fyi in Fall 2013.)

Why is the EMA important to you and to Ingram Entertainment?

All the reasons that I’m involved in EMA and Ingram is involved really are selfish reasons. Let me give a few examples.

The Association helps protect our customers’ rights to rent and sell entertainment products. Without this protection, it would hurt our customers and therefore hurt our business. 

Like the EMA, Ingram has a diverse customer base. My involvement in the Association further helps me, and therefore my company, understand the many points of view of retailers and suppliers. This helps us stay ahead of the curve in providing programs and services and helps us to better comprehend the industry in which we operate.

The Association has been an incredibly valuable resource for us in understanding different industry issues, legal and regulatory developments, and the like. Instead of us having to use valuable, and sometimes scarce, resources to dig into these things, I can call the staff and they usually have the answers or can get us the answers rather quickly.

The EMA promotes efficiencies that have helped reduce our expenses. A good example is its work with game publishers to get rid of inner packs, which were a waste of money and labor. 

Lastly, the EMA has provided me personally with terrific networking opportunities, which has helped our business, and it also has provided me with what I’m sure will be lifelong friends. 

I can honestly say that our dues are more than offset by the value EMA provides to us. If most retailers realized that, they would get more involved. Sometimes we tend to wear blinders and only focus on our own businesses, which is obviously important and the reason we all draw paychecks. But what I have found is that by being involved in working on issues that are good for the entire industry, it has more often than not been good for my business as well. So again, it’s all very selfish, but I think that our involvement in the Association has more than paid off for us.

The video industry has changed a great deal during your tenure as chairman. How has EMA kept up with the industry?

The most important thing is that, as the industry has gotten broader in what is considered home entertainment, so has the EMA. 

When I first became a Board member and through my early days as chairman, the Association was primarily made up of video specialty rental retailers – small independents, mid-sized chains, and large public companies. It was pretty narrowly focused, but that was representative of the industry at that time. Today the Association still has independent specialty retailers, but our members are as diverse as the industry is. We’ve got brick and mortar retailers, we’ve got online retailers, we’ve got kiosk companies, we’ve got video specialty and game specialty retailers, we’ve got retailers that rent and sell physical product, and we’ve got retailers that rent and sell digital product. 

So, I think the Association has done a very good job of mirroring the transition and definition of the home entertainment industry. We’ve gone from a video-rental centric association to an association that is pretty all-inclusive and embraces and represents everybody in the industry.

How do you address the challenges of finding common ground in a diverse membership?

Finding common ground is not always easy. Clearly the issues that we are dealing with today are very different than they were a decade ago. What’s important to one set of constituents may not be important to others, whether it’s digital standards, or as I mentioned before, how games are packed.

So you have to do a lot of listening and learning and trying to understand what is driving the various, differing points of view. Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of really, really bright people, both on the Board and on the staff. As we talk through things, we realize that in a lot of cases we have a lot more things in common than we thought and we work our way through to solutions.

One of the things that has worked really well, particularly in the digital supply chain area, are working groups. We will gather the people who are the experts on a particular issue, like metadata, from various members companies and have them work through a problem and develop a consensus solution.

What do you consider to be EMA’s greatest accomplishments during your tenure?

Certainly, the Supreme Court victory in the Brown versus EMA video game case was a huge accomplishment, and our other legislative and legal activities, such as protecting the right of our members to rent under the first sale provision, have been very successful. And staking out a leadership position in establishing standards for the digital supply chain has been notable. I’m also pleased that we have created valuable new events for the industry, such as Independent Product Market and Digital Media Pipeline, and have assisted in launching the incredibly successful Los Angeles Entertainment Summit. Most recently, the successful transition of the management of the Association has been a satisfying achievement.

But I think the greatest accomplishment is that we’ve been able to change and adapt with the industry. We’ve gone from being video-retailer centric to being almost a perfect mirror of the industry. One of the key ways we did that was to effectuate the merger of the video and the video game retailers into one association by combining the Video Software Dealers Association and the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association into the Entertainment Merchants Association. We also aggressively reached out and brought the online video segment into the Association. So it’s like we’ve become a totally new association.

What are your goals for EMA for the next 12 to 24 months?

We want to maintain and increase the value proposition for our members by both embarking on new initiatives to support the industry and involving more members in our existing programs and activities. We are going to reinvigorate our video and video game retailing councils, which previously provided an important forum for discussing industry issues. We intend to increase our membership and grow our events. Along those lines, we will continue to expand our reach, relevance, and representation in both the digital and video game industries while maintaining our support for physical goods. Finally, it is important to ensure sound financial management so that EMA can continue to do all the good work that it does for the industry.

It’s the end of an era with Blockbuster shuttering its brick and mortar stores. What do you think this means for the industry as a whole?

I don’t think it has a big material impact. They haven’t been a major influence in the industry for the last few years. 

It’s more of a perception issue than anything else. DISH’s announcement that they’re shuttering the remaining Blockbuster stores didn’t come as a surprise, but it certainly garnered an incredible amount of headlines. Unfortunately, the headlines kind of sent the wrong message to consumers that physical media is an old technology and the physical rental business is over. In reality, it is not over. There are still some very successful rentailers out there. While rental is shifting, it is certainly not dead.

I do believe that as an industry we may have missed a big opportunity to garner a lot of positive press for home entertainment. All of the mainstream media picked up on the Blockbuster story and as an industry we should have been responding to that publicity by reminding consumers that home entertainment didn’t die with Blockbuster. We should have taken this opportunity to remind consumers that today they can buy or rent physical video products at the thousands of video specialty stores, grocery stores, mass merchants, big box retailers and toys stores that are still in business; or they can buy or rent online from numerous retailers, or at thousands of conveniently located kiosks. And if they prefer to buy or rent digital versions, they have more choices than ever and that experience is getting better every day.

Looking into your crystal ball, what will the home entertainment industry look like in 10 years? Will we have discs?

I have no idea. It is so hard to even predict what the industry is going to look like in one to three years. As technology gets better, everything changes much more rapidly. 

I do know that people all over the world, and Americans in particular, love watching movies. They will continue to consume, and will consume in greater numbers even than they do today.

I do think there will still be a physical business in ten years. It will likely be much smaller, though. I recently read that, while most people dismiss the physical music business, CDs still make up a third of the revenue of the music business. So that makes me believe that in five years physical media will still make up a significant portion of the home entertainment business.

While everyone is still feeling their way on what works in the digital realm, in five years from now digital delivery methods and economic models will be a lot clearer than they are today and people will understand what’s beneficial for everybody along the supply chain. The business may be more fragmented, but I foresee that digital will be ubiquitous, in that most retailers will have some type of digital offering.

What does that mean for EMA?

As long as there is a home entertainment industry, which I don’t think will ever go away, there will always be a need for a strong trade association.

Regardless of what the industry looks like, trade associations are vitally important for any industry for a number of reasons, some of which I’ve already mentioned – the ability to have a knowledge resource available to us, the ability to address common issues among a diverse constituency, and the ability to lobby for what’s right for retailers and their customers. 

EMA needs to continue on the track we have been on the past few years, which is making sure we have a diverse membership that mirrors the industry, ensuring that we support both traditional and emerging business models, giving everybody a say and listening to all points of view, and finding consensus solutions to common industry issues. If we continue to do what we are doing now, and we will, EMA will still be a healthy and vibrant association. 

And I’m proud that all the organizational metrics that the Board looks at are trending up, and you can’t say that about a lot of other trade associations. 

Okay, final question: What was the last movie you watched, and was it on DVD, Blu-ray, Ultraviolet, online, or in a theater?

The last movie I watched was Gatsby. I’ve read the book a few times, and I wanted to see it in all its glory because I know how grand it could be and I was aware there was some controversy about the soundtrack. I wanted to see it and hear it the way it really needs to be seen and heard, so I watched it in my living room on my home theater system in Blu-ray. And I loved it

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