There are some parts of skateboarding that can cross over into the mainstream without a burp of indigested protest. Take skateboard magazines as an example, a medium that demands the strictest code of ethics within its pages, but is sold almost entirely through mainstream newsstands. There’s often a better selection at your local Barnes & Noble than at a skate shop. For the past year, videos have been following the path beat through the retail woods by magazines. Walk into your local Best Buy or Wherehouse and you’ll see a couple ‘core skate companies’ videos stacked next to Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys.

Most skate videos have a skate-shop shelf life of a few months, if that. Try buying an average skate video six months after it was released and you’ll likely find yourself out of luck. Skateboard distribution wasn’t designed to warehouse anything, especially old videos. The cost of continued advertising to promote the release isn’t worth it, and many companies don’t think of skateboard videos as a way to make a profit. Instead, they’re generally used as a promotional tool, which partly explains why riders rarely get paid extra for video parts.

But how do we solve this? True, there are a lot of videos that shouldn’t be available after a month or two–as well as several that probably shouldn’t be released at all–but some manage to bottle the lightning and become classics, creating a demand years after their initial release. One of the most sought-after videos right now is Blind’s 1991 release, Video Days. Rumor has it that the master tape is missing, making quality dupes impossible, and some scammer was recently selling home-duped copies on eBay for 30 bucks a pop. Powell Peralta’s classic 80s videos directed by Stacy Peralta are still available from Skate One, and Alias Distribution recently released a collection of the original and coveted Plan B videos.

As requested as these classics are, selling them through skate shops is unfortunately small potatoes compared to what a mega retail store could move. But most skateboard companies still haven’t built a strong connection to mainstream video outlets. More and more are realizing this and looking for opportunities to work with various companies that have a relationship with the big boys.

We can’t pretend that skateboarding is a ‘core underground activity anymore. The new generation didn’t grow up being harassed and using the skate shop as a clubhouse, it grew up watching contests on TV and playing skate games on their PlayStations, games that they bought in a mass-market retail store.

Redline Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Best Buy retail giant, recognized this and saw an empty chasm between peripheral sports enthusiasts and the product they wanted. It’s a chasm that, if crossed properly, could be filled with cash for both Redline and the skate companies.

Trying to sell skateboarding to the mainstream market can be next to impossible if done without the cooperation of the skate industry. Until recently, mainstreaming skate videos hasn’t worked. But Redline appears to have found a solution, and even more impressive, the company’s done it without pissing off too many people. “The idea has always been this: work with the filmmakers to grow, not replace their distribution and business,” says Redline President Gary Arnold. “Protect their cred, keep the ‘core shops as the leaders, and give them a different package with more footage or a director’s cut. But at all costs, don’t erode the ‘core.”

It’s always a bit disturbing to hear a non-skater talk about “‘core” products. We like to think that we have the secret decoder ring, and we probably do, but “‘core” to the outside world generally means “produced by skate companies.” Tony Hawk’s Trick Tips, for example, wouldn’t be considered ‘core by longtime skaters, but nobody would question Tony’s credibility. That video, the first specifically groomed for Redline, is currently the number-one selling ska video of all time, hitting triple platinum, and will soon be released in Europe.

Arnold openly admits that he was a bit clueless about the industry when he started Redline. “When I wanted to begin to work with the action-sports community, what did I know?” he says. “I was a middle-aged man from Minnesota.”

So in January 2000 Arnold hooked up with Surfdog, a “multidimensional entertainment company,” in the words of the company’s President Pierce Flynn. Surfdog does everything from managing bands like the Butthole Surfers to operating coffee shops and consulting with companies like Redline. Flynn’s roots in action sports run deep, as he worked in both the editorial and advertising wings at TransWorld during the late 80s and served a stint as president of the Surfrider Foundation in the 90s, among other things: “Redline hired Surfdog to be their eyes and ears in action sports.”

Flynn knew that skaters react poorly to half-assed efforts. He advised Redline that for skate-video sales to work, it had to make a long-term commitment and that now was the time to strike. “Mainstream kids finally want the real deal,” he says, comparing the current skate market to hip-hop culture, which captures the interest of both the ‘core enthusiasts and the middle-class white guys. “It can’t be cheesy, it has to be a credible product,” Flynn says, mentioning that he was very careful not to bastardize skating’s image. “I wanted it to be the anti-X-Games,” he says. “I knew the skaters had to be in control (of the product). Let the creative producers in skating create the image.”

Redline went to some of the most popular brands and started negotiating. Naturally, they wanted the videos that were already popular. Birdhouse’s The End, Hook Ups’ Destroying America, the TransWorld video series, and others signed on. “Best Buy has carried skate videos at different points in time,” says Arnold. “But they were not the videos kids wanted. Redline Entertainment went to the leaders in skate, (such as) Birdhouse and Tony Hawk, and said, ‘Let us work with you. Not to take over, but help expand (your) exposure into the mass market.’”

Even though Redline is a Best Buy company, it isn?t limited to that company’s stores for distribution. “Redline is the first wholly owned subsidiary of Best Buy that moves beyond retail and beyond commerce at just Best Buy,” says Arnold. Redline distributes its skate titles to other stores around the world and is the largest distributor of skate videos anywhere. Best Buy, though, has put some serious power behind the skate titles. Flynn says that Best Buy normally charges vendors around 50,000 dollars per region per week to have prominent positioning at the end of aisles. Every time I’ve been in my local Best Buy the past year, I’ve noticed that skate titles are displayed at the end of the isle. “The truth is that everything costs big at mass (retail),” says Arnold. “Best Buy’s weekly insert reaches 72-million homes every week, yet Redline Entertainment products get supported regardless of the cost.”

Best Buy also sponsors tours and contests while Redline advertises the videos in magazines and on TV. “The commitment has been, and will continue to be, a multimillion-dollar commitment because it isn?t about any one video, it’s about building a comprehensive business at mass retail.”

But make no mistake, this isn’t some funky altruistic gesture to help skaters retain their integrity while selling dump-truck loads of product. Redline saw an untapped market, a market that no non-skate company has been able to crack successfully. “The areas that Redline has committed to, action sports and music, are areas that reflect the interest of the core Best Buy consumer,” says Arnold. “(They) tie in with the belief that the next great wave of consumers are coming from the Gen Y crowd–78-million in number–larger than the baby-boomer demographic, and completely different in almost every manner. As every generation deserves its own set of heroes, Gen Y has spoken loudly about their (heroes).”

Unlike selling ‘core hard- or softgoods at mass-retail stores, videos fly under the skate sellout radar because they’re generally seen as a disposable commodity. TransWorld’s various titles and 411VM impose a strict time buffer between skate-shop releases and Redline’s unleashing the video to non-endemic stores. Shops, which get the videos a month or two before mass retail, seem happy with this. “I haven’t noticed it hurting our video sales,” says Mark Zitzer, owner and manager of Phase 2 in Milwaukee. “We sell a lot of our videos to repeat customers. When a video comes out, kids are waiting for it, and after the first week it sells out. Then it’s mostly sold on recommendations.” Besides the classics mentioned earlier and the CKY series, Zitzer says there are few videos that sell strongly after six months.

Arnold has a theory as to why Redline can move older skate videos that fail to continue to sell well in skate shops. “These films have longer shelf life at mass retail for a number of reasons. Unlike ‘core (shops), where a small number of films are showcased under glass and space limits how many films can be supported, all of (our) films are new to mass (retail). Word of mouth is growing, and as a result, sales patterns remain steady.”

Arnold also pointed out that most mass-retail stores sell tons of video games and music, and “action-sports films are another logical product for the consumer to purchase.”

In Zitzer’s mind, he sells to a totally different customer: “I don’t think that customer (who buys a skate video at Best Buy) would walk into a skate shop and buy it. To the mainstream customer, it’s an impulse buy (at Best Buy).”

Zitzer believes buying a skate video at a mass-retail store could work as a gateway for kids to get more involved with skating and eventually hit the skate shop for the more recent videos.

Flynn agrees: “My hunch is that these (Redline’s customers) are kids who aren’t skating as much as kids who go to skate shops to buy their videos.”

So far, the relationship between Redline and the skate industry seems to be a smooth road. But it’s Redline’s next step that could create some potholes. “We’ll take a more active role in creation of content,” Arnold says when I ask about Redline’s future. “We’ll repurpose films to the mass market, invest in production cost, and, in the future, expand to work directly with filmmakers about lifestyle concepts we’re passionate about.”

Distribution is one thing, but influencing content is a dicey proposition–dicey because the obvious success of Redline has to do with their hands-off approach to the product and hands-on approach to distribution. But then again, skate videos have never been sold or marketed in the way Redline has done it. n set of heroes, Gen Y has spoken loudly about their (heroes).”

Unlike selling ‘core hard- or softgoods at mass-retail stores, videos fly under the skate sellout radar because they’re generally seen as a disposable commodity. TransWorld’s various titles and 411VM impose a strict time buffer between skate-shop releases and Redline’s unleashing the video to non-endemic stores. Shops, which get the videos a month or two before mass retail, seem happy with this. “I haven’t noticed it hurting our video sales,” says Mark Zitzer, owner and manager of Phase 2 in Milwaukee. “We sell a lot of our videos to repeat customers. When a video comes out, kids are waiting for it, and after the first week it sells out. Then it’s mostly sold on recommendations.” Besides the classics mentioned earlier and the CKY series, Zitzer says there are few videos that sell strongly after six months.

Arnold has a theory as to why Redline can move older skate videos that fail to continue to sell well in skate shops. “These films have longer shelf life at mass retail for a number of reasons. Unlike ‘core (shops), where a small number of films are showcased under glass and space limits how many films can be supported, all of (our) films are new to mass (retail). Word of mouth is growing, and as a result, sales patterns remain steady.”

Arnold also pointed out that most mass-retail stores sell tons of video games and music, and “action-sports films are another logical product for the consumer to purchase.”

In Zitzer’s mind, he sells to a totally different customer: “I don’t think that customer (who buys a skate video at Best Buy) would walk into a skate shop and buy it. To the mainstream customer, it’s an impulse buy (at Best Buy).”

Zitzer believes buying a skate video at a mass-retail store could work as a gateway for kids to get more involved with skating and eventually hit the skate shop for the more recent videos.

Flynn agrees: “My hunch is that these (Redline’s customers) are kids who aren’t skating as much as kids who go to skate shops to buy their videos.”

So far, the relationship between Redline and the skate industry seems to be a smooth road. But it’s Redline’s next step that could create some potholes. “We’ll take a more active role in creation of content,” Arnold says when I ask about Redline’s future. “We’ll repurpose films to the mass market, invest in production cost, and, in the future, expand to work directly with filmmakers about lifestyle concepts we’re passionate about.”

Distribution is one thing, but influencing content is a dicey proposition–dicey because the obvious success of Redline has to do with their hands-off approach to the product and hands-on approach to distribution. But then again, skate videos have never been sold or marketed in the way Redline has done it.