Blockbuster Video: Just a blip in our cultural timeline

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I came across this story on Yahoo the other day and it occurred to me how quickly the video rental store, and specifically Blockbuster Video, came and went. I remember how popular it was in the 80’s to stay home on a Saturday night after picking up the VHS tape from the local video store. There were actually lines to checkout. 

According to Wikipedia, Blockbuster opened in 1985, peaked at 9000 stores  in 2004, and filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

Distressed Blockbuster Video Sign: trebomb on flickr

Distressed Blockbuster Video Sign: trebomb on flickr

Two things killed Blockbuster. One was Netflix. Netflix started taking off after 2002. And that was when you had to fill up your rental queue and wait two or three  days for the DVD by mail. No  Netflix instant!

The other  was Blockbuster’s poor customer service model. I like many, were annoyed that my $2.99 rental would end up costing several times more because of late fees. The late fee rate was much higher then the rental rate giving a feeling of being gouged.  Screwing  your customers is seldom a good way to retain them – unless you are the only game in town.

This confluence of events – Blockbuster’s late fees, and Netflix’ new model is what I believed killed off Blockbuster. Do you remember Netflix advertising that there was never a late fee? So it was a flat rate of $20 per month vs who knows what at Blockbuster.  After Netflix added online streaming, Blockbuster’s prospects became even gloomier.

Blockbuster had the titles and the customer base but lost out to Netflix big time. Had the company been managed better perhaps all our Roku boxes would be set to the Blockbuster channel.

Just out of curiosity I checked, and  yes you can stream movies from Blockbuster.  But there are some limitations. “Blockbuster On Demand” works on your PC or mobile device, some smart TV’s and some Blu-ray devices. Conspicuously absent is any mention of set tops such as the Roku or Boxee.

Well all good things must come to an end. Sooner than later when your’re really not that good.


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6 Responses to Blockbuster Video: Just a blip in our cultural timeline

  1. len says:

    The rate of acceleration of change is mind numbing. When I was a kid, we had vinyl records. My sister’s boyfriend had an 8-track player. By the time I got a car, 8-track had been supplanted by cassettes. Just a couple years later, I was researching my first CD player. My wife’s 2002 Ford Explorer came with a CD player which I just replaced with a new stereo that can play music from a usb drive, a direct connected MP3 player, an iPod, an iPhone, or a Bluetooth phone.

    In that same time frame, we went from broadcast tv on a tube to ondemand viewing via a VCR (this is when video stores arrived) to cable tv to ondemand viewing via a DVD player to ondemand viewing via a DVR to streaming media (this is when the video stores started closing).

    Somewhere in there, we stopped reading and public libraries turned into video kiosks.

    • Bob says:

      Right Len, I work in a library, for the first time, dvds have a higher circulation rate than new release books, and public pcs are the main reason patrons come.

    • Greg says:

      Agreed Len. The switch from analog to digital was really what drove that acceleration. Think how long vinyl lasted – basically a variation of Thomas Edison’s technique – cutting analog grooves into some media. I’m not sure we stopped reading though. What about the Kindle?

      • len says:

        We read differently. Used to be that you researched at your library. Borrowed books for recreational reading. Thumbed through magazines while you were waiting for something.

        With the arrival of the internet, a much larger, more convenient, cut and paste research resource displaced a lot of that. At the same time, large bookstores and eventually Amazon.com made it inexpensive and easy to purchase books. Now, of course, we can download thousands of inexpensive and free books to our e-readers.

        Public libraries [ab]used their copyright exemptions to enter the media ‘rental’ business. And now (via Overdrive) the e-book business. They did this to maintain patronage.

        It’s really difficult to show that people are reading less. The math can get pretty fuzzy. For instance, I download lots of books I never get around to reading. Public library data tends to count patrons or transactions without distinguishing among books and other media.

        But, if you talk to people who know about these things — librarians, bookstore owners, book club members — they will all tell you that people are reading less. And some studies support this…

        http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-3520163.html

        In this multitasking era, it’s simply easier to pop in an audio book for the commute. Amazon just bought Ivona and is actively integrating text-to-speech into their libraries.

        I tend not to get too excited about these milestones. It’s all part of the evolution of the market place. Borders, Blockbuster, and disappeared because someone else figured out a better way to deliver something to me. Yeah!

        PS I bought a couple Blockbuster racks when my store went under. One is full of DVDs and the other is full of CDs. I’d rather watch Netflix than walk over, pick out a movie, and put it in the DVD player. Things change fast.

  2. Ryan says:

    Don’t forget about Redbox. They also had a hand in putting the final nail in the coffin for Blockbuster.

    • Greg says:

      Yes, Redbox played a part in the downfall, though Blockbuster could more easily fight back with their own kiosks couldn’t they?

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