Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Blockbuster's Woes are Local DVD Rental's Potential Gain

Update 3/8/10 Sadly, I must report that Pick Your Flick will be closing next weekend. They started an inventory sell-off this past weekend, and will close at the end of business next Sunday. They were in operation for 3 1/2 years--not bad for a small store in an industry on life-support. Along with Pick Your Flick, Easthampton's other video store, Movie Gallery, is also closing. This leaves Pleasant St. Video in Northampton as one of the few remaining rental stores. Pleasant St. Video specializes in hard-to-find stuff. I've found things there that are NOT on DVD--hard to believe, but there are a number of reasons that some films are only available on VHS, esp. outre films by folks like Russ Meyer. Many of us hope that Pleasant St. Video will keep going as the rest of the storefront rental industry collapses

As more old-school media business models fail, and retail takes a nosedive in our crappy enconomy, is it any wonder that Blockbuster--the company that gobbled up the local video rental business-- is facing the prospect of bankruptcy?

Some of this, as Ed Oswald points out in his post, has to do with the pricing war between Blockbuster and Netflix, which also did some damage to Netflix. Netflix, however, doesn't have Blockbuster's retail space overhead, so, while impacted, didn't get totally destroyed.

There's more to it than the ascendancy of Netflix--although Netflix's community and convenience features speak boatloads about the service's value to its customers. There's also been the rise in DVR use. I'm sure lots of folks don't use TiVo just to tape the latest episode of Gray's Anatomy or Hannah Montana. They're also hooking it up to HBO and other networks, TiVo'ing movies as well as premium content series like Six Feet Under.

Yet there's opportunity in the death of Blockbuster to bring back something vital to neighborhoods: the local DVD rental store. We used to call them "video stores" and often they were run by a cast of characters that knew something about movies. And I don't mean like the condescending jerks in Kevin Smith's "Clerks." Some of my best memories were of when, in the '80's, I worked for a local "video store," where the movie geek in me got to talk with customers about movies. I could recommend movies because I'd seen most of them (a benefit from working there.) Seeing a regular group of customers, I got to know their likes and dislikes and could help them choose. I'll never forget being able to help a harried Father with a bratty son pick out something comparable to "Ghostbusters" or help someone's wife pick the best of "sword and sorcery" b-flicks (yeah, I used to watch those. Liam Neeson was in a bunch of them) for her husband.

We even used to have an old guy who used to keep a notebook of reviews of porn flicks. He had a whole system, with recommendations! His notebook was amazing, and his info, believe it or not, quite valuable to our business (Saturday night was big for couples renting porno.)

Local video rental stores were replaced by Blockbuster because of the sheer volume of new releases that Blockbuster stores could keep in stock at any given time. That, however, was easily countered when Netflix, with its almost-endless supply, could mail 'em quicker than Blockbuster could rent 'em. What Blockbuster couldn't replace, and what people are beginning to value again, is the interaction with other film afficionados. Netflix does this online through its various rating and sharing mechanisms, while stores like Pick Your Flick, the DVD rental store up the street from where I live, does it through face to face community building and interaction.

Let me tell you something about Pick Your Flick: there's *people* there. It's owned by Tim and Liz Jenks, who used to be neighbors of mine. Both Tim and Liz are huge movie lovers. They have a great sensibility about film--any kind of film. They get the reasons why Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" is a great chick flick, as much as they get how "Atonement" was kinda boring....

Tim and Liz bring to their store a relationship to their customers that continues to be sorely lacking amongst the blue shirted, khaki wearing worker bees of Blockbuster.

I'll never forget when a chick at Blockbuster recommended "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" to a customer. I wouldn't have recommended that turkey without a serious caveat and a recommendation to have a stiff cup of coffee first. And Tim and Liz wouldn't recommend it either without a raised eyebrow and a possible suggestion of something better--or a cheeky comment about Sean Connery. And on their MySpace page, they've put together a list of Top Ten Reasons why Pick Your Flick is better than Netflix

So, while another big corporate movie rental business goes bust, there just might be a very good opportunity for the small local movie rental place to boom.

Think about it.


Mike Dobbs said...

Good for them! I've longed missed the neighborhood video store – Springfield used to be full of them and I was a member at most – and if Blockbuster goes crash, then the dynamics in this business might change enough to allow the re-birth of the mom and pops.

I attended and wrote about two VSDAs – the trade show for the video industry – in 1994 and 1997 and even in '97 the effect Blockbuster and other big chains had on stifling the industry was very evident.

Remove Blockbuster's exclusive deals with Hollywood studios and it's ability to buy titles at lower prices that indies can and the playing field becomes much more level.

Tish Grier said...

You know, Mike, when I think about it, the mom and pop rental stores add a whole lot more than corporate stores to a community. They participate in the Chamber of Commerce and other events in the community (I know Tim and Liz do this.) They add great value to the business community because it's essential to their business. Big video stores can't do that.

Another thing: we don't have the blockbusters to the level we did back in the heyday of Blockbuster (hence the name.) With all the various kinds of entertainment out there, and the lack of really good movies, it's hard to have huge hits like Titanic or Ghostbusters again. It's a different world. Still, if you really want that film that *everybody* is watching, then you can get it via Netflix. And then visit the mom and pop store for the conversation and the other stuff you're not desperate to watch.

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