The Wall Street Journal says that a video production company that earned 90% of its revenue from taping Walmart’s internal meetings over the past 30 years has lost the Walmart account–but retained the rights to the video library.
Now the videos are available to anyone who wants to see them —for a price. Lawyers, reporters, activists and journalists are lining up at the production company’s tiny new office, cash in hand.
From the WSJ:
They sold their 20,000-square-foot production facility and moved into an 800-square-foot rented office. They now hope to sustain the company by selling access to the Wal-Mart videos. They charge $250 an hour for video research, and additional fees for a DVD copy of film clips.
Plaintiffs attorney Diane M. Breneman stumbled across the videos while working on a lawsuit she filed in 2005, on behalf of a 12-year-old boy, against Wal-Mart and the manufacturer of a plastic gasoline can sold in its stores. Her client was injured when he poured gasoline from the container onto a pile of wet wood he had been trying to light, and the can exploded. The lawsuit alleges that the containers are unsafe because they don’t contain a device that prevents flames from jumping up the spout and exploding.
Wal-Mart’s lawyers have argued in court filings that the retailer couldn’t have known that the product “presented any reasonable foreseeable risk…in the normal and expected use.”
Ms. Breneman says that when she first laid eyes on the racks of tapes, “I thought, ‘How could anyone in the world allow this to exist?'” The videos, she says, deal with “everything anyone would want on Wal-Mart….They’ve got 30 years of people winging it.”
Ms. Breneman says Flagler Productions located videos of product presentations to Wal-Mart managers in which executives gave parody testimonials about the same brand of gasoline can. In an apparent coincidence, one manager joked about setting fire to wet wood: “I torched it. Boom! Fired right up.” In a separate skit, an employee is seen driving a riding lawn mower into a display of empty gasoline cans. A Wal-Mart executive vice president observing the collision jokes: “A great gas can. It didn’t explode.” The tapes were made before the lawsuit was filed.
Other revealing moments include: “A former executive vice president and board member challenges store managers in 2004 to continue his work opposing unionization. Male managers in drag lead thousands of co-workers in the company’s corporate cheer. In another meeting, managers mock foolish or dangerous use of a product sold in its stores. In 1991, founder Sam Walton describes Hillary Clinton, then a Wal-Mart director, as “one of us.”
The video company says it offered to sell the tapes to Walmart for several million dollars, but the retailer would pay only $500,000, saying that the “footage wouldn’t be of interest elsewhere.”