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Gulf War Hits Home Front With Wave Of Vid Docus

Some call it coincidence. Others swear it’s a useful service. Only a few dare call it an opportunity. Regardless, purveyors of video documentaries are wasting no time rushing war-related tapes to the sell-through market.

Though Turner Home Entertainment is holding off on releasing its hourlong “The War Begins” video – a planned compilation of CNN reports from the Persian Gulf – at least a dozen other videos on the gulf conflag are in the pipeline or in stores.

This is video’s first war; and, says vid consultant Saul Melnick, “if it is repeating what is on tv, there is no need for it.”

“But if the information is comprehensive, people will buy it the same way they buy news-magazines.”

It’s no surprise that high-tech weaponry, the focal point of the war, is spotlighted in the bulk of fare. “Desert Shield,” an examination of both Iraqi and American war machinery from Simitar Entertainment, hit the street Jan. 9. It combines declassified footage from military contractors with some video shot in the gulf last August.

Although initial sales were light, “orders have been just pouring in,” since the first sorties, says Simitar national sales manager Joel Smetanka. Video Ordnance prexy Marlene McGinnis-Cardin says sales figures are not yet available, claiming the response “has taken us by surprise.”

But a followup cassette called “Desert Storm, Air Assault” is expected out within a week, she said. And a third cassette, “Tank Charge,” would likely be released after a ground war begins.

The second release will mix news footage with tape from Video Ordnance’s library, but McGinnis-Cardin says the tape is “not so much about news events as about the weapons and how they were used.”

Simitar will also distribute White Lion Pictograph’s two-volume “First Strike: Jets Of Desert Storm,” due Feb. 15. The tapes offer an overall view of the “hardware and aviation of the first 10 days of the air strike,” says producer Michael Moody. Each volume targets six types of American aircraft, and Moody is projecting sales of over 100,000 at $9.95 apiece. And Video Media is shooting for combined sales in excess of 100,000 for three Feb. 14 releases: “Nightstalkers,” “Wings Of Silver” and “Wings Of Gold.” The prices range from $14.95 to $19.95.

Those tapes also focus on American aircraft (four earlier tapes each deal with specific planes such as the F-14 or F-15), but “there is no footage in Iraq,” per marketing manager Graham Potter. “We started this in September and it was scheduled for completion around now anyway.”

Meanwhile, Video Treasures has teamed with U.S. News & World Report to co-produce “Operation Desert Storm: Behind The Scenes Of The Allied Air Strike Against Iraq” ($9.99).

Dan Rappoport, Video Treasures veep of marketing, says the emphasis is on “action footage of pilots in training… right up to implementation,” including video of air strikes on Baghdad.

“If the conditions and marketplace indicate so, there will be more videos,” he adds.

Melnick says he doesn’t feel any of these videos will be perceived as exploitive if they provide information that is helpful to people – especially if they find a niche, such as MPI’s upcoming release of the Jan. 26 ABC special that attempts to make sense of the war for children.

MPI, which holds vid rights to ABC’s “Nightline,” also is releasing two other ABC war specials: “Line In The Sand: War Or Peace,” which originally aired Jan. 14; and “Line In The Sand,” broadcast prior to the November escalation of troops.

“There will be no real marketing campaign,” says MPI vice-president of marketing, Jaffer Ali. “We are not trying to profit from the war. We have no desire to make money from other people’s blood. We see it as a public service.”

ABC spokesperson Sherrie Rollins says nothing else is in the works. NBC spokesperson Katherine McQuay says they also have no videos planned.

CBS is seriously contemplating releasing a video, but for now it is a question of “how to do it and when to do it,” according to Ken Ross, v.p. and g.m. of CBS Video. Most likely, CBS would do an analytical retrospective some time in the future, he says, since “this may just be the introduction to the war.”

“What it’s about right now is late-breaking news,” Ross explains. “We are not interested in ‘instant publishing,’ in just exploiting the situation. We believe in doing this hopefully with greater insights.”

“These [rush releases] are obviously very opportunistic,” says Video Treasures’ Rappoport. “But I don’t think it is in bad taste. People want to keep a record of history.”

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