Wayne's World, the Sequel

Blockbuster jumps into the Paramount fray to extend its video empire

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H. Wayne Huizenga is not too proud to admit he comes from trash. The chairman of Blockbuster Entertainment, which operates the world's largest chain of home-video stores, got started in business as a private hauler, collecting garbage from 2 a.m. until noon in Pompano Beach, Florida. After showering and changing clothes, he spent the rest of the day hunting up new customers. The eventual result: Waste Management, now called WMX Technologies, the world's largest garbage company. Using the same grit and gumption, Huizenga parlayed 19 Blockbuster stores into a 3,200-store empire. "Huizenga is one of the world's great salesmen," says Roy Akers, who follows the entertainment industry for the investment firm Advest Inc. in Boca Raton. "He makes Ross Perot look like he's backing up."

So who better than Huizenga (pronounced High-zenga) to charge into the brawl between Viacom Inc. and the QVC shopping network for control of Paramount Communications? With the aim of accelerating Blockbuster's expansion beyond video stores, Huizenga, 55, agreed to invest $600 million in Viacom last week and thereby strengthen the MTV owner's $7.6-billion bid for Paramount. The move gave Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone critical support in his battle with QVC chairman Barry Diller for Paramount, though Redstone will need even more help to get closer to QVC's nearly $10 billion offer. "This opens up new dimensions for us," Huizenga says. "It clearly puts us in a better position to be more involved in entertainment than ever before."

That will be true even if Viacom fails to win Paramount. Under terms of the agreement, Blockbuster can withdraw half its investment and still retain its seat on the Viacom board if Viacom does not acquire Paramount by Aug. 31, 1994.

Huizenga, whose personal fortune is worth some $600 million, is bent on transforming Blockbuster into a 21st century entertainment juggernaut. While he claims the coming of interactive TV that will allow people to call up movies on demand will not hurt his video business -- as industry analysts frequently charge -- he has been rushing into new ventures as restlessly as he once bought garbage trucks. By the year 2000, Huizenga plans to turn his stores into one-stop family centers that offer videos and recorded music discs as well as virtual-reality parlors and playgrounds for tots. At the same time, he is investing in film and TV studios and even raises the possibility of a Blockbuster cable-TV channel. "We're going to be your neighborhood entertainment experience, your neighborhood Disney," he says.

Though Huizenga lives near Blockbuster headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, his video stores have already made him a leading player in Hollywood. With revenues of more than $1.2 billion, Blockbuster accounts for fully 15% of all video rentals and can make or break movies, depending on how many it orders. The company can even help mend ailing careers: it turned actor Louis Gossett Jr. into a more viable star after his Rocky-like 1992 film Diggstown recovered from a box-office knockout to become a video champ. (Blockbuster refuses to carry titles rated NC-17 and other so-called adult films.)

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