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New name and focus spark confab

VSDA rechristened EMA Home Media Expo

With a new name and broadened focus, the EMA Home Media Expo — the vid biz tradeshow previously known as VSDA — is luring back top DVD retailers for its 26th annual convention at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas this week.

The focus this year: emerging delivery platforms, including high-def DVD and movie downloads.

This will be the first convention under the umbrella of the Entertainment Merchants Assn., formed last year when the Video Software Dealers Assn. merged with videogame trade group Interactive Entertainment Merchants Assn.

EMA initially had planned to add a videogame element to this year’s show, but it backed off after the Entertainment Software Assn. scheduled its revamped E3 for Santa Monica a week before the Home Media Expo.

Traditionally, VSDA was the place where a colorful collection of homevid distribs — everyone from tiny indies to the studios — would rub elbows with officials from rental giants like Blockbuster and Movie Gallery.

VSDA’s relevance waned in recent years as the vid biz moved into selling discs through big retail chains.

But this year, the revamped confab has found traction with this new big-box constituency.

Officials from Target, Costco and Best Buy are due back after skipping the last few Vegas outtings.

The retailers join a range of other outlets confirmed to attend, including online giant Amazon.com, electronics chains Circuit City and Fry’s, specialty chains Trans World and Borders, kiosk company Redbox and discount chain Big Lots.

EMA prexy Bo Anderson attributes the retail traction to a strong focus on emerging delivery platforms this year.

“The retailers that I run into are trying to take a hard look at where this is all going to move and where they can go to meet demand,” he explains.

The opening session will feature a focus group of power users who regularly download entertainment and buy DVDs. EMA has also invited Home Theater Forum and Digital Bits, consumer websites popular with early adopters, to take part in the convention.

Panels will feature execs from leading movie download companies including Movielink, AT&T, Sonic Solutions and Amazon CustomFlix discussing the future of video.

Backers of rival high-def formats HD DVD and Blu-ray are also expected to have some presence at the show, as they did last year.

Not everyone is impressed.

Rental heavyweights Blockbuster and Movie Gallery are expected to have some representation at the show but probably won’t hold many meetings.

And Wal-Mart, the largest DVD retailer, hasn’t attended in the past and won’t be there this year either.

Also bowing out of this year’s show is Disney, which dropped its EMA membership. The studio will hold meetings with retailers off site.

Independent suppliers have stepped up in the place of the studios, bringing in stars to support upcoming DVD releases and throwing parties.

Starz Home Entertainment will hold the opening-night fiesta for attendees, Rhino is hosting a cocktail party, and Image Entertainment is offering a standup comedy night.

EMA will name comedian Katt Williams as Entertainer of the Year and honor Jon Favreau with the Independent Career Achievement Award. Margaret Cho will appear at the awards show as a guest presenter.

“EMA is the chance we get to assess the state of business between the retail world and the studios,” says Virgin senior product manager of movies Chris Anstey. “It gives us the opportunity to look at large-scale initiatives that are in the works while letting the vendors know what our plans are for our business in the upcoming year.”

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