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Mar 18, 2010

THE VIDEO STORE – FOLLOWING VHS CASSETTES INTO OBSCURITY?

Back when I was in high school, and during college, I did what most Cinephiles of my generation did – I pulled a Quentin Tarantino and worked at a Video Store. In fact I was a Video Store employee at 4 different places for a combined total of almost 8 years, although none of those stores was a Blockbuster.


I bring this up because the video store is officially becoming a dinosaur and even more so now as it seems the number 1 video chain is crumbling. Thanks to online service NETFLIX and now Redbox Kiosks which you can find at places like Wal-Mart, McDonalds or your local grocery store, the "brick and mortar" video store is facing possible (probable?) extinction – at least the video store that we all grew up with. The #2 store behind Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, had their parent company – Movie Gallery – file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this past February. This was their second bankruptcy filing, their first being one that occurred in 2008 and right now, the future looks pretty grim for Blockbuster as well.


To combat Netflix and Redbox, Blockbuster has been doing everything they can to stay alive. They have tried to emulate the Netlix mail order service with TOTAL ACCESS which features the added bonus that you can switch out a certain amount of movies at your local store for instant access. They eliminated late fees, only to then reinstate them last month. They are also closing most of their stores across the United States, and replacing them with kiosks, much like the Redbox ones. I'm not sure if this has been affecting Canadian Blockbusters as Netflix is not in Canada, and the Canadian mail order DVD service – Zip.ca – isn't nearly as well known (or for that matter really any good…in fact, it's a disaster).


Earlier this year, Netflix and Warner Bros. announced that new WB releases would not be available for rental on the service for 28 days after their initial release. The same deal was later struck with Redbox. This move was made in an effort to bolster sagging disc sales, as well as boost video-on-demand. New release renters make up a small portion of Netflix customers, where the majority tends to favor older, catalog titles. Not to mention that by brokering this deal, this has given Netflix access to more titles for their online streaming service, which is growing by leaps and bounds. I really don't know how this deal benefits Redbox really. Pundits expect that the same deal will be made with most – if not all – of the other studios. Right after this deal was announced, Blockbuster made a statement that this couldn't have happened at a better time. While not only having titles in-store for sale, they also stand to be the only outlet for new releases.


This week though, Home Media Magazine is reporting that Blockbuster is in some serious trouble. Cornering the market on new release rentals and reinstating late fees are not going to be enough to save it. Facing probable Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Blockbuster stands at the abyss – a place they really have been for several years now. While I'm not at all surprised (in fact it is a shock they have lasted this long) I have to say that I am impressed with Blockbuster's tenacity in trying to adapt to consumer's changing needs while battling their new, and much stronger, rivals (Netflix and Redbox). However Netflix just came out of the gates swinging by not only changing the whole idea of convenience with customers getting titles delivered directly to their mailbox quickly and efficiently, but by still being on the cutting edge of meeting consumer needs with their instant streaming service which is not only available online, but is now accessible on several Blu-Ray players, internet-ready TVs as well as Sony's Playstation 3, Microsoft's X-Box 360 and I believe (if not now, soon) Nintendo's Wii video game consoles. Netflix is now everywhere and has all the appearances (and it really is) a forward thinking, future ready company (not to mention that a friend of mine who works for the U.S. Postal Service tells me that Netflix is practically the only thing keeping the Post Office busy these days) while the big blue Blockbuster symbol just looks like a crumbling symbol of a bygone day. Meanwhile Redbox capitalizes on those who want their movie rentals cheap and convenient ($1 per night) and takes advantage of the impulse shoppers at the big box stores and chains where they are generally found.


I kind of miss the idea of going to the Video Store on a Friday night and browsing through titles (not to mention I buy an awful lot of movies so the need to rent is sometimes unnecessary) and although I still try to do it every so often – especially visiting unique and more eclectic stores – I too have fallen prey to the allure of Netflix. I am a firm believer in the Netflix model – and at first, I fought it, but now a Netflix membership for me is almost as essential as a home phone line.


Needless to say, a lot of my early film education was gained by working at video stores, and I will be sad to see them go.