Saturday, May 20, 2006

WattleDome? Portland Hollywoods? Blazer Gallery?

Apparently tired of having what happens to him staying in Vegas, Mark Wattles wants to move back...and he has his eye on a nice 785,000 sqft bungalow in the Rose Quarter. That's right, the former CEO of Hollywood Video (still called that but now owned by Movie Gallery) is looking to move back from the desert and try to make some more money, by buying the Portland Trailblazers from Microsoft magnate Paul Allen. As usual, his bid is to do things solo, so he won't be helping make Terry Porter's nut (or even taking it over and making it his nut). Wattles claims he has the money from his current holdings to make a bid, and I don't necessarily doubt it.

For whatever else he has done in his life, Wattles holds a fairly unrecognized place in American culture. It's fairly well known that Blockbuster Entertainment is helmed by conservative interests, who are not afraid to apply their values to their business. The company has banned unrated or NC-17 movies from their stores, and even claimed the right to edit "their" versions of movies for rental, shorn of whatever they deemed unsavory. They claimed to get rid of "late fees," exchanging them for stocking fees...and then eventually charging a fee for when it was really late, which I guess is a "really late fee." And somewhat like Wal-Mart in that respect, in many places Blockbuster was the only game in town. Sure there were (and still are) indie stores all over the country, but they are notoriously hard to keep open--mostly because they cannot hope to compete with the selection of major video stores.

Without understanding the stranglehold Blockbuster had on the movie rental market, it won't strike you that if Blockbuster decides not to carry a film, or carries its own version, then that company holds the power to drive production decisions made by filmmakers. If Blockbuster won't stock it, and they're the only game in town, movies they won't carry have a smaller likelihood of being made.

That's why I've cheered on Hollywood from the first day I saw one back in Virginia--here was a company who could potentially force Blockbuster to respect the market a little more. Hollywood did not censor their movies, and opted to let customers choose which would be the most popular to stock (although they drew the line at X-rated films as well). This is true despite Wattles being a prominent member of the Mormon church. Additionally, he was known to offer his employees better benefits and a stronger sense of belonging. Blockbuster employees and customers, on the other hand, write "I hate Blockbuster" fanzines and forums.

So if Wattles wants to take it over and has the money, by all means more power to him. Paul Allen's team runs kind of like a Blockbuster--financed on the cheap, with an eye mostly to appearances rather than true integrity and quality, and the sense that the employees all hated working there. Given Wattles' ability to make something out of nothing, and work complex financing to his own advantage, I wouldn't doubt for a second that he were capable of turning the team around. Welcome back, Mark!