Ron Eisenberg, Home Video Pioneer, Dies at 73

Ron Eisenberg P
Courtesy Eisenberg Family

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos calls the ETD founder "a real inspiration"

Ron Eisenberg, founder and former president of ETD (East Texas Distributing), died peacefully in his Houston home on Oct. 31. He was 73.

A native of Illinois and graduate of Loyola University Law School, Eisenberg began his career in home entertainment in 1977 when he formed ETD as a distributor of magazines and books.

During his nearly 30 years there, the company grew from 150 employees to more than 1,200 and would eventually control more than a third of the video rental business in the U.S., surpassing $1 billion in sales as a distributor for the major studios to grocery stores, warehouse clubs and video stores nationwide.

Eisenberg learned the value of service while managing newsstands inside grocery stores. By 1980, he was opening first-of-their-kind video rental departments in Randalls grocery stores, five years before Blockbuster would open its first location in Dallas. Before long, ETD would be supplying rental tapes to Kroger and other major grocery chains, and Eisenberg saw to it that those chains moved swiftly to become a major part of the emerging video sell-through business as well.

When Blockbuster Video launched, distribution to its stores was spread among various regional suppliers. Eisenberg's decidedly low-tech firm out-serviced all of them and ETD became the sole distributor to Blockbuster by 1993.

Direct-to-consumer fulfillment was just one of the many retail innovations that Eisenberg would develop for the former video giant. Eisenberg had a simple growth strategy: As Blockbuster expanded, so did he, opening more than a dozen distribution centers to service those new locations and growing his business on top of the expanded infrastructure.

Before a major studio ever released their movies with Spanish subtitles in the U.S., Eisenberg built a sizable business licensing the rights to produce and release subtitled VHS copies of Hollywood movies for sale and rental.

Eisenberg was honored as Billboard's Video Person of the Year in 1994, the year his company claimed a 20 percent market share, and in 1995, he was inducted into the Video Hall of Fame.

An early mentor to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, who calls him "a real inspiration," Eisenberg is survived by his wife of 35 years, Jackie, and his daughters Kim Eisenberg and Meg Ross.