Nothing demonstrates the advances in home video rental technology than this item from Studio Briefing about Blockbuster closing 1,000 or 22% of its stores. With Netflix mail-delivered rentals and Red Box DVD renting machines becoming the much preferred means of renting DVDs (and with more video on demand (VOD) technology arriving now and in the future) the once bright and shiny Blockbuster stores are a faded emblem of the VHS days of home video.

I remember when I saw my first Blockbuster. It was around 1990, almost two decades ago and the boom in home video on VHS cassettes was still rising. It had begun several years earlier with an explosion of mom and pop store fronts, followed by the inevitable next stage of local and regional chain stores, Blockbuster was one of the first national chains to bring a fresh and polished design to movie rentals retailing. I was living in Virginia Beach, VA and saw the building go up and the signage appear. About three blocks from my apartment, I was delighted to learn that, while studying film at Regent University, I would be that much closer to a source of films I would use for studying-and of course entertainment. When the building was finished and ready for business, I walked into it with a bit of wonder at its blue and gold design with bright marquee bulbs surrounding the signs within. For about ten years, Blockbuster was the place to go for a wide variety of VHS movies divided into many categories and genres.

I even won a contest that entitled me to dozens of free rentals. This was the golden age of home video that replaced late night movies as sources of cinema education for a generation or two of film buffs. Being able to rent and, better, own a copy of a great or favorite film changed the nature of fandom as we could now watch a film repeatedly in our home, learn its best lines by heart, and become obnoxiously knowledgeable about the trivia of a movies. Thus did new home video technology alter movie culture. In the late 90s, with the arrival of DVDs, we knew that we could now watch movies with far greater clarity and the new technology set a record for rapid diffusion through the consumer marketplace. Cheaper to produce and far lighter than VHS tape (which took a rapid decline), it was only a matter of time before a smart company like Netflix figured out a business model that profited on internet-ordered discs. When I get discs from Netflix, they usually come very quickly from the local center in my city, West Palm Beach. Blockbuster has long known that Netflix and eventually VOD would make driving to and from a bricks and mortar store obsolete and the rumors of the once mighty company's demise have been around for years. But closing so many stores is part of the company's long goodbye. Having overbuilt in its heyday, shutting down stores was inevitable. On the street in front of my neighborhood, there were three stores within a less than three miles stretch when we moved in four years ago. None of these stores looks as good as the glory days. Shelves are as worn as the carpet and there's usually only one employee necessary rather than the bustling activity of the past. Now, because of earlier closings, there are two and I wouldn't be surprised if another goes dark soon.

Blockbuster's remaining hope would seem to be hope that the business that trounced it will save it. On the screen grab below of the Studio Briefing article linked to above, the right side next to the text happens to show what could keep the Blockbuster from joining Pan American Airlines and Oldsmobile in the discarded brands bin. Renting online and returning to a declining amount of stores might still offer a convenience to those still willing to drive for their home video but in the long run, this seems unlikely.

Posted by: Alex Wainer