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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Blockbuster is run by idiots

The Hollywood Reporter says the company is developing a new service “that will allow consumers to download movies onto portable devices in two minutes.”

Got that? You have to get in your car and drive to a Blockbuster story — not forgetting to bring along a gadget that serves no other purpose other than transporting the movie home again, assuming you remembered to plug it in to recharge it the night before — where you will stand in line in front of an ATM-type machinge to await your turn to plug this gadget into the kiosk and stand there while it downloads your movie.

Meanwhile, the rest of the planet will just be downloading movies directly from Netflix or iTunes or the BBC or the Sci Fi Channel — or Disney — to their TiVos.

If Blockbuster had set up an executive committee to come up with the worst way to get movies to consumers, they couldn’t have done better.

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  • Patrick

    Having worked there for 4 and 1/2 years a long time ago, I can confirm their idiocy and the sooner that that company evaporates, the better this world will be.

  • joy

    Wait. People still go to Blockbuster?

  • Hmph. I haven’t rented a movie from Blockbuster since June of 1994 (Clerks). The only reason I even have a Blockbuster card now is for that once-in-a-blue-moon occasion that I want or need to rent a videogame.

    This “go to the store and copy the movie on to a USB thumbdrive” concept is simply moronic.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Much as I hate Blockbuster, I can’t agree that the people running it are idiots.

    The company is a huge success.

    Most people don’t own Tivo, and don’t subscribe to Netflix. Sure, there are people like the above posters that have sworn off movie rentals from stores like Blockbuster, but they’re in the minority.

    Maybe someone vilifying this new way of renting movies can explain what’s wrong with it, beyond saying it must be bad because it’s Blockbuster’s idea. If the price is competitive, what’s wrong with the idea, other than the logo on the device? Why won’t it work?

    Blockbuster may be looking at future developments. Time Warner Cable just announced a test market for filesize overlimit fees for downloads by residential customers. If this becomes standard and other ISP’s follow suit, then downloading hi-def movies via the home connection is going to get expensive. That’s going to help Blockbuster.

  • Bitchen, it’s a bad idea because it still requires a trip to the store… in an age of $4 gasoline, having to physically transport yourself to the store and back home again simply to collect a bucket of bits makes no sense. Netflix makes sense because it piggybacks on the USPS, which is already visiting your mailbox daily; digital downloads make sense because you’ve already got the big pipe in place. (TWC should be ashamed of themselves if they are looking into imposing download caps on residential users. They pull that crap on me and I will go elsewhere for my broadband access.)

    The age of the Blockbuster store should be nearing its end. Stuff like this is basically grasping at straws to remain relevant in a digital age.

  • bitchen frizzy

    People still have to go out for stuff. The trip to Blockbuster is usually combined with errand-running, or as the cap to the Friday evening dinner outing.

    Netflix has its limitations, including the prime one that you’ll see the movie when it gets delivered. Spontaneity is impossible with by-mail Netflix. For some people, that’s not a problem, but much of the home-movie market is more impulsive and less discriminating than the typical Netflix customer.

    TWC has no shame, evidently, because they’re doing it even as we speak. Where will you go? All of the cable companies will follow suit if TWC proves the model works. There’s DSL, at least for a while, but for most people that’s trading down.

    Blockbuster’s certainly very busy and profitable for a store that’s no longer relevant and grasping at straws. Converting just a fraction of its customers to downloads will give it a download customer base dwarfing anything now online, especially if they make the download device cheap and simple to use.

    For technophiles who are already all set to download and store hi-def from iTunes or whatever, Blockbuster may be the Dollar General of the movie business. But that doesn’t mean it won’t make money.

  • Bitchen, one thing you forgot about Netflix: If you are a subscriber, you can also download movies if you don’t want to wait for a DVD to be delivered. Having the option of both DVDs-by-mail and movies-by-download eliminates the need for a retail presence. Obviously, one issue of downloading a movie is how to get it onto your TV; but the same is true for the digital movies people will be picking up at Blockbuster.

    I’m not saying some people won’t go along with this new offering from Blockbuster; but it’s like putting lipstick on a pig.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Nexflix’ download version of a movie is inferior to DVD quality, IIUC. Netflix will probably respond to Blockbuster with a better-quality download, but that’s still hampered by download speeds and probable future file size caps. And to get anything from Netflix at a competitive price, you need a subscriber plan and the time and inclination to watch several rental movies a month.

    Blockbuster can make in-store downloads work if they’re available to customers without a subscriber plan – basically, as an alternative to renting a disc.

    If putting lipstick on a pig makes it more attractive to customers, then business will put lipstick on it. But I don’t see it that way. It’s more like a new way to serve pork, which is still a cheaper alternative to steak even if not as tasty.

  • E

    I still see Blockbuster dying. The age of the video only rental place is not going to last forever. This attempt seems like them trying to compete with the coming digital apocalypse in an awkward “the internet is made of tubes” manner, but they’ll need to do something different to survive.

    I don’t know how large the Hastings chain is around the US, but they thrive with a combination of video game/movie rentals, dvd purchases, music purchases, and books. And theres no reason Walmart couldn’t set up something similar and easily steal the market share.

  • MaryAnn

    Bitchen, one thing you forgot about Netflix: If you are a subscriber, you can also download movies if you don’t want to wait for a DVD to be delivered

    Only if you have a PC — it doesn’t work with Mac. I hope that changes soon.

    The thing about this Blockbuster plan is that sooner than we think, the definition of TV will be “TV connected to the Internet.” It won’t be just technophiles who are downloading movies: when you watch TV you will be downloading stuff, whether you realize it or not.

  • Ryan

    Blockbuster is dead, they just don’t know it yet. I had to think, when I read this post, and I believe the last time I physically went out and rented a video was about 4 years ago. It makes less and less sense every day.

  • blockguy

    The video store isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future. One-third of the population of the US does not have the internet (gasp!) at home and has no plans to get it, ever.
    The behavior of Joe and Jane Six-Pack does not change as fast as you think. There is a social aspect of the trip to the video store, and it is not experienced by the same people who create blogs and comment on websites.
    The digital stick concept is a way to deal with title availability in stores, as most stores run out of copies of the latest film on release date. This company has stated it is just a test concept and is only in very early stages. I would think the purchase of the stick would be subsidized by your movie rentals, ala cell phones.
    As has been publicized recently, several different store concepts are being tested as well.
    As far as gas prices, the population will bitch about it and do little else-people will still go to work, to the movies, out to eat, etc. etc. It will take more than double current gas prices to seriously impact people leaving their homes. Most of the world has $8 gas already and life does not stop.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Those are some points I’ve been trying to get across. I guess I’m dealing with some insular worldviews. If you think America is all homes with high-end computers connected to high-speed internet, and that Americans all have enough time and money to spend on enough movies a month to make a Netflix subscription worthwhile, then I can see why you’d wonder why Blockbuster still exists. It’s a very small segment of the population, overrepresented on websites like this one, for which the brick-and-mortar video store is a thing of the past.

    Another dose of reality: it’s Netflix that’s on the ropes. They’ve been on the verge of bankruptcy for a year now, and it’s touch-and-go for them. One guess at the name of the company that’s beating them! I don’t wish them any ill, because I really want there to be competition for Blockbuster, but Netflix is facing some of the aforementioned market realities.

    Yes, Blockbuster needs to do something different to survive. They’ve successfully adapted in the past, and they continue to do so. So they’re not idiots. Ruthless competitors, yes. Shameless copiers, yes (and don’t put it past them to simply buy a bookstore chain). Hellish employers, yes. Frustrating for consumers to deal with, yes. But not idiots.

  • MaryAnn

    One-third of the population of the US does not have the internet (gasp!) at home and has no plans to get it, ever.

    and

    If you think America is all homes with high-end computers connected to high-speed internet, and that Americans all have enough time and money to spend on enough movies a month to make a Netflix subscription worthwhile,

    You’re both reading assumptions into what I’ve written that are not there. I know many homes do not have Internet access *as it exists today* and that many people would not find Netflix *as it works today* useful.

    In 2005 87 percent of American homes watched TV via cable. It’s not that much of a stretch to imagine one device that looks like a TV — or two devices, a TV and a cable box/TiVo — sitting in the same place the TV sits in our homes now, able to access the Internet for the purpose of downloading/streaming movies and episodes of TV shows. (Because the Internet is already coming in over cable — we’re just interpreting that signal in different ways with different devices today.) In that environment, a company like Netflix would begin to offer one-off downloads that would not require a monthly subscription.

    And we’re already seeing people change their behavior in response to the price of gas. Mass transit ridership is up, dramatically. Sales of gas-guzzling cars are down, dramatically. There’s only so much stretching a paycheck (which hasn’t seen a rise in years) can take.

  • E

    “If you think America is all homes with high-end computers connected to high-speed internet, and that Americans all have enough time and money to spend on enough movies a month to make a Netflix subscription worthwhile”

    I love how it’s always assumed that saying one thing means people are ignorant of anything else. I know not everyone uses the internet, but no one needs a high-end computer to browse the net, and library’s function very well as a once a week way to check a netflix queue or send some email. I have a grandma who only uses her computer when we’re over. But in what world is Netflix unaffordable, theres like a 7 buck a month plan, and a blockbuster rental costs 4 dollars; you get two movies a month and its worth it, plus the cost of gas.

    Lets also point out that if these people have “no plans to get it, ever.” in terms of internet, will they adopt a weird digital stick to download movies onto.

    And I don’t think brick and mortar is dead, I think the movie/video game only store is dead.

  • bitchen frizzy

    MaryAnn, the digital stick and internet downloading are not mutually exclusive concepts. There’s no reason Blockbuster cannot do both. They’ll attack on both fronts, in their usual ruthless and cutthroat way, and reinforce success. If merged internet/television ultimately succeed in completely displacing physical rentals, Blockbuster will be there to sell downloads. And I won’t like it, especially if they’re the only ones left.

    E, it’s not whether you’re ignorant of facts, it’s whether you consider them in your estimations. As you see it, Netflix is the future, Blockbuster is dead. Reality is that Blockbuster is thriving, and kicking near-bankrupt Netflix’s ass by diversifying into internet rental while not relying on it exclusively for revenue. The online rental business isn’t very profitable yet. Your perception =/= reality, and you are content with that.

    Blockbuster isn’t going anywhere, and they’re already making the adaptations they need to – INCLUDING ONLINE RENTAL – as they’ve done in the past.

    The weird digital stick would be the alternative to going to the library or to trying to download a humongous file with the home computer. The appeal to most people of stopping by a store on Friday night instead of going to the library to use its grungy computers should be obvious. Then there’s the looming problems with downloads of hi-def from the internet. Those $5-per-gigabyte-per-month overlimit penalties are going to hurt.

  • MaryAnn

    I never said memory stick and Internet downloading were “mutually exclusive.” Model Ts and Priuses aren’t mutually exclusive, either, but that doesn’t mean that they both make sense.

  • bitchen frizzy

    I’ll run with your analogy. Fact is, most people are still driving Model T’s. The Prius is a futuristic and unaffordable alternative that has techie, niche appeal but doesn’t match the needs of the broader market and won’t deliver as promised (that’s true in reality as well as allegorically).

    That’s the perception thing. To you, the memory stick is as obsolete as the Model T. To most of the public, the memory stick is current technology -more like a used car or a Honda Civic.

    Then, too, I shave with a safety razor. Very old technology, as old as the Model-T. Electric razors are out there, very fancy ones even, but I don’t use them. Am I just old-fashioned?

  • Bitchen, your analogy ultimately doesn’t hold up because we are not talking about a physical item like a car or a razor. We’re talking about information… bits. I’m not saying that there is no demand for physical carriers of bits (and believe me, I prefer buying CDs and DVDs to downloading songs and movies), because obviously there is. But the solution that Blockbuster is proposing is a half-assed melange of the digital and the physical: Get your bits, but come here to get them. That’s just dumb.

    As long as you’re, you know, in the store, Blockbuster should be able to burn you a fresh DVD of the movie, not give you a weak digital copy. This system that they are testing has all of the weaknesses (you have to drive, it’s not a hi-fidelity copy of the movie) and none of the strengths (you stay at home, the picture is HD or very very good).

    Basically, this new system is merely a ploy to keep people coming into the Blockbuster retail stores. They’re doing whatever they can to try to buoy up their numbers, even if what they do doesn’t ultimately make any sense. They need to think better, or they will become extinct.

  • Blockbuster… lol

  • bitchen frizzy

    –“Basically, this new system is merely a ploy to keep people coming into the Blockbuster retail stores. They’re doing whatever they can to try to buoy up their numbers, even if what they do doesn’t ultimately make any sense.”

    Yes. That’s what is known as “marketing.” Retail businesses do those things routinely. The aim, IIRC, is to make money. If it makes money, it makes sense. It doesn’t have to make any logical sense.

    “They need to think better, or they will become extinct.”

    Blockbuster = huge, competition = struggling. I keep bringing up this blindingly obvious fact, to no avail. My lesson for the day is that arguing with those who will argue with success is like talking to my pencil sharpener.

    I think I’ll stop posting on this thread and just bang my head on the desk.

  • Ryan

    Blockbuster turned a profit in Q1 2008 for the first time in five years (mostly based on cost cutting) and investors were so unimpressed with this news, that the stock actually FELL 2 cents a share to $3.05 That does not show a lot of confidence in Blockbuster’s future.

    Netflix, on the other hand, is continuing a steady upward trend, with a 36% increase on their Q1 profits, and estimates of roughly 1.37 Billion in revenue. Clearly this is still a growing company, and is nowhere near bankruptcy.

    http://www.bizjournals.com/eastbay/stories/2008/04/21/daily14.html?ana=from_rss

  • E

    Well there you go on that point. ^

    And you assume I don’t take certain facts into my discussion, possibly because I don’t completely agree with you.

    “As you see it, Netflix is the future, Blockbuster is dead. Reality is that Blockbuster is thriving, and kicking near-bankrupt Netflix’s ass by diversifying into internet rental while not relying on it exclusively for revenue. The online rental business isn’t very profitable yet. Your perception =/= reality, and you are content with that.”

    I believe online and digital distribution is the inevitable future, and Netflix is your most popular incarnation of that. I said in my very first post Blockbuster is dying because I don’t think its done enough to compete, and while that death may be years away, its still coming if they don’t change things.

    I said “I don’t know how large the Hastings chain is around the US, but they thrive with a combination of video game/movie rentals, dvd purchases, music purchases, and books. And theres no reason Walmart couldn’t set up something similar and easily steal the market share.” And just like my second post, it goes with the fact that I think video only rental stores are not going to be legitimate anymore.

    You talk about perception versus reality, but all it feels like is you debating the same points and ignoring the parts where people aren’t full inline with you.

  • Bitchen, one thing you forgot about Netflix: If you are a subscriber, you can also download movies if you don’t want to wait for a DVD to be delivered. Having the option of both DVDs-by-mail and movies-by-download eliminates the need for a retail presence. Obviously, one issue of downloading a movie is how to get it onto your TV; but the same is true for the digital movies people will be picking up at Blockbuster.

    I’m not saying some people won’t go along with this new offering from Blockbuster; but it’s like putting lipstick on a pig.

    ++

  • Since this was first posted, Blockbuster has shut down several stores in the Dallas area.

    And I can’t but notice that when my friends who want to see a movie but can’t afford cable wish to see a movie, more often than not, they hit the local Redbox, not Blockbuster.

    Then again there’s a large number of DVDs at the local library which seem more tempting to the average movie-watcher on a budget than anything on Blockbuster.

    For what it’s worth, one can still occasionally see crowds when one visits the local Blockbusters that are still open, especially on weekend nights.

    But for how much longer?

  • JoshDM

    Hey, anyone remember DIVX?

  • There’s only one left in my city, and they didn’t even carry the movie I wanted. (Disney’s original Fantasia.)
    The inside looked pretty sad…I predict it will be gone soon.

  • Sağlıklı Olmak (Thu Aug 05 10, 11:10AM):

    Bitchen, one thing you forgot about Netflix: If you are a subscriber, you can also download movies if you don’t want to wait for a DVD to be delivered.

    Well, bitchen didn’t forget it, since NetFlix didn’t start streaming movies until 2009 and bitchen’s post was from 2008. However, extra hurrah for bringing back to life a 2-years-dead thread for no reason except to hate on Blockbuster.

    This post is Newbs Approved!

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