BLOCKBUSTER'S CARBERRY: THE IBM CONNECTION

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Think of Robert L. Carberry, VP-technology at Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., as the chief cartographer of the video retailer's new-technology ventures.

Mr. Carberry last month left behind 30 years with IBM-most recently as president of the company's Fireworks Partners multimedia division-to help map out Blockbuster's new-media efforts.

His mandate is as it was with Fireworks: Scout out companies involved in multimedia innovation and link up with or invest in them.

Mr. Carberry is the second executive to leave IBM for Blockbuster in recent months. Antonio Romero, a former general manager for IBM in south Florida, joined the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company late last year as a Blockbuster VP and ceo of the Blockbuster-IBM joint venture NewLeaf Entertainment Corp. and its sister company, Fairway Technology.

It is that venture that Mr. Carberry, 50, will be closely overseeing. NewLeaf will allow music store customers to create their own compact discs or cassettes at in-store kiosks. Using Fairway technology, consumers will be able to call up music selections from an off-site database and make an album in 6 minutes or less.

A working prototype exists at NewLeaf's Deerfield Beach, Fla., offices, though Mr. Carberry refuses to allow a reporter to see it. He said the company is in the midst of selling recording labels on the idea, which could appear in stores as soon as yearend.

Convincing the music industry may be a challenging prospect for Blockbuster, however. The company was roundly criticized when the NewLeaf venture was introduced publicly last year.

Now, NewLeaf executives are trying to persuade record labels that the kiosks are "not a barricade in the distribution channel but an alternative path," providing real-time digital distribution and even a way to track store inventory, Mr. Carberry said.

NewLeaf has invited record labels to its Deerfield Beach offices to examine the technology, said Tim Sites, senior VP with the Recording Industry Association of America in New York. As yet there is no consensus regarding acceptance of NewLeaf, he said.

New technology is becoming increasingly important to Blockbuster. Over the past year and a half, the entertainment company has increased its stake in a variety of "software" mediums, from ownership of movie companies and their libraries, to distribution and retailing of movies, recorded music and videogames. NewLeaf/Fairway could usher in a new form of "software" distribution.

The publishing retailer of the future-including booksellers, music outlets, video stores or videogame outlets-could be a unified location, Mr. Carberry theorized, capable of providing any piece of published data on compact disc.

Customers could make a wide variety of purchases, from published material to theater and game tickets-an application that would be especially attractive to Blockbuster Chairman H. Wayne Huizenga, owner of professional baseball, football and hockey franchises.

"All of those things certainly fit Blockbuster's portfolio," Mr. Carberry said. "There's no end to where you can take telecommunications and computer processing power in terms of delivering a pleasurable and entertaining experience."

Further, cable subscribers someday could use NewLeaf technology to tap into information databases and bring that information into their homes, he said.

Mr. Carberry brings a wealth of experience in digital technology to Blockbuster.

While at IBM, he worked on the Apollo spaceship and space shuttle programs for the U.S. government. He spent five years developing the IBM Personal Computer organization in the early 1980s, followed by a year and a half as director of worldwide development for IBM corporate.

Mr. Carberry's background gives him a "fairly wide vision" of multimedia, digital technology and their capabilities and applications in the marketplace, said Steve Reynolds, director of interactive multimedia research with Link Resources, a New York market research company.

"He isn't one of your traditional computer guys. He's a pretty forward-thinking guy," said Mr. Reynolds. "It signals another part of the Blockbuster story that they are going to fight to maintain a certain position in the market and use the franchise they have now to try to evolve with the market."

The challenge for Newleaf, Mr. Carberry said, is not to get the system operational, but make the hardware consumer-friendly.

"There's a lot of migration planning that goes along with trying to create a road map that says, not abstractly `here's technology' but `here's technology that can really be applied to retail,' and allow consumers to take advantage of commerce relations," he said.

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