Blockbuster is extending the closely watched CD-ROM trial period in its San Francisco Bay Area stores through June 31.

The trial started in approximately 50 stores on Thanksgiving weekend and was originally set to end in March.

It is seen by many video and interactive industry executives as a harbinger of CD-ROM’s future as a retail commodity in video stores. If Blockbuster is satisfied with the results and rolls out CD-ROM display space nationally, other video retailers are expected to quickly follow suit.

According to Michael van der Kieft, Blockbuster’s director of business development, the chain is carefully monitoring sales and rental data with the help of the Gallup Organization and needs more time to “manage CD-ROM better as a business.”

Costs a problem

“We have to manage down our costs,” van der Kieft said, “and do a better job of matching titles and demand. We don’t have a business yet, but we think it will be one, and we hope to roll out after our review in June.”

Many observers anticipated that unresolved copyright problems would hamper rentals of CD-ROM discs, but van der Kieft said Blockbuster signed a special agreement with participating CD-ROM publishers and has not yet run into problems.

Blockbuster’s Bay Area stores feature approximately 250-350 square feet of retail space labeled Interactive Experience. CD-ROM titles are displayed for rentals and sales, and there are demonstration computers with both MPC and Macintosh CD-ROM drives. Customers also can rent drives.

“If Blockbuster rolls this out nationally, it will have a big impact,” said Paul Sweeting, editor of Video Software News. “Video stores are not particularly innovative, but if CD-ROM is in Blockbuster stores, it will help familiarize the product and make people comfortable with it.”

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