In 1993 Jonathan Gross bought the contents of an old VHS distributor called Video Entertainment Corp. and reconstituted it as Video Services Corp (VSC). This many years later, the company is the longest-running show on the Canadian film distribution stage and to celebrate, the company was rechristened Unobstructed View in 2016.
“A client wisely pointed out that we were sounding a little too VHS and it was time for a rebrand,” says Gross of the new handle. “It is a metaphor for an unfettered line of sight to the truth emanating from some of our documentary films and a little tip of the hat to the old arenas I would visit in my youth which would invariably have seats that were obstructed and this would be written right on the ticket.”
Today Unobstructed View offers the most complete array of distribution services for independent film in Canada, thanks to its decades in the home entertainment area going back to the old Air Farce Video Yearbooks of the mid-90s, which built the company’s reputation as a pioneer in the then burgeoning world of sell-through video.
Today, however, UV is armed with relationships not only with retail but with every transactional platform – from iTunes and Google to every cable system in Canada to Amazon to airline to Canada’s independent and chain cinemas. With its new warehouse facility on stream, UV is not giving up on the DVD and Blu-ray market, which remains a steady provider of cash flow.
“We could talk about the past forever but with business models changing daily it doesn’t matter that we sold a million DVD season sets of Corner Gas,” adds Gross, a former rock critic and writer with a Seinfeld credit under his belt. “It’s more important to a producer to say that we can platform a film a dozen different ways in both English and French Canada.”
With that in mind it should be noted that several international shingles trust their Canadian catalogues and new releases to UV, including the Criterion Collection, Magnolia Pictures, Film Movement, Kino Lorber, Arrow, Synapse Broadway Video and Vinegar Syndrome.
As for the future, UV will continue to burrow into the niches that are supported by loyal consistent audiences – whether it’s ethnic or genre-based content.
About Jonathan Gross
Five years as a staff rock critic at the Toronto Sun in the 70s and 80s didn’t prepare Jonathan Gross for the home entertainment industry, save for one chance meeting.
“In 1981 the first VHS duplication facility opened in a back room in a studio called VTR and I covered the media event to launch it,” says Gross from his Toronto office. “Four years later, I had moved back from a freelance stint in New York to work for my father who was importing Korean VHS tape in a trading company. “I mentioned that I knew a potential customer and managed to sell a container to VTR with one meeting.”
Four years later, Gross was back writing for television in LA when he got a call from a former tape customer at Video Entertainment Corp. in Kitchener, Ontario, explaining that the fellow who bought his company was in deep trouble and if Gross would fly up with a cheque he could buy the assets for ten cents on the dollar.
“It was a flyer and truthfully had the earthquake not sent us packing out of California, it would have been a bad deal,” adds Gross. “However, the assets proved marketable in the budget VHS business and from there Gross used his critic’s eye to source some cult hits on his way to mainstream success. “‘The whole Air Farce Yearbooks arose from a writing gig I had on a Gemini Awards show in 1989 with the Farce’s Roger Abbott. “I called him years later with the idea and we got it done. “Sometimes, it works out.”
VSC’s greatest success however was selling over a million season sets of Canada’s all-time favorite sitcom Corner Gas. “Behind that were hundreds of thousands of copies of cult fave Kenny vs Spenny and the legendary DVD “Russell Peters’ Two Concerts, One Ticket.”
Now as Unobstructed View Gross hopes to turn on some dormant creative juices as the cost of producing original content comes down. “We need to control all the windows and making your own movies and shows is the future,” adds Gross, a former contributor to Rolling Stone, who also has a story credit on Seinfeld’s The Fusilli Jerry episode.