Home video pioneer Ron Eisenberg, the founder and former president of ETD (East Texas Distributing), died at his Houston home on Oct. 31. He was 73.
Ron was a “keep it simple” kind of executive. If it seemed like a good idea, it was probably worth trying. If it didn’t work, he shut it down and moved on. One of Ron’s best ideas led to the formation of the entire video rental business. ETD was servicing newsstands inside grocery stores in the late 1970s when he began testing the sale of $100 movies on videotape. He soon figured out that renting, not selling, those tapes was the way to go.
Thanks to Ron, watching movies at home became a reality. By 1994, the year he was named Billboard’s Video Person of the Year, EDT controlled one-third of the rental business nationwide, distributing more than $1 billion of videos to grocery stores, warehouse clubs and video shops.
I went to work for ETD in the early-’90s, when home video was still growing at a rate of 60 to 70 percent every year. Ron taught me that as a distributor, we have the studios on one side and our customers on the other — and we need them both. “So, kiss every ass presented,” he would say.
Ron had one of the greatest work ethics on the planet and could be found in his office most weekends. In his later years, he would bring his aging dog, Butterscotch, into the office with him. They were both losing their vision, but they aged together. When he lost her, Ron lost a little bit of himself. ETD exited the video business in 2001 and he retired a few years later.
Upon his passing, I told Ron’s daughter, Meg Ross, a lawyer at Loeb & Loeb in Los Angeles, how much her father meant to me — and realized that in the rush of my life and career, I hadn’t taken enough time to thank him directly. My ETD days are more than 15 years behind me, but Ron’s character, vision and humor are a part of everything I do today.
This article first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of Billboard.