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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is Redbox going to kill Hollywood?

I’ve got a piece up over at Film.com about Redbox, the buck-a-day DVD rental kiosks you may have seen around your town in supermarkets and drugstores. Hollywood is terrified of Redbox’s success and is trying to hobble the company’s service:

Warner Home Video and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment… are demanding that Redbox hold back on renting their DVDs for, respectively, 28 and 30 days after release. Because everyone who couldn’t be bothered to go see 17 Again at the multiplex are totes clamoring for the DVD, and won’t be willing to wait another month to see Zac Efron give sex advice to swooning teenaged girls.

I don’t get the appeal of Redbox myself:

it’s like Netflix without the convenience of the movies being shipped right to your house or — even more conveniently — right to your TV via a settop box. With Redbox, you still do everything online — create an account, give ’em your credit card info, reserve your movie — but then you have to schlep out to Walgreens to pick up the thing. But lots of people do like it … I guess, the ones who are hanging out at Walgreens on a regular basis. Cuz then you have to bring the DVDs back, too. Who can be bothered?

But, to parahrase Han Solo, Redbox must have hit pretty close to a nerve to get the studios all riled up like that.

Is Redbox going to kill Hollywood? Or are the studios overreacting, as usual?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • Jim Mann

    I agree with you on not seeing the point of Redbox. Much less convenient than Netflix, with a far smaller selection.

    And, surprise, surprise, Hollywood is predicting doom based on it. After all their crying wolf over the years (starting at least with the introduction of the Betamax), how can anyone take them seriously.


  • Particularly in supermarkets, it is convenient for that spur-of-the-moment ‘I want to see a movie right now’ decision. Especially if you just want to see something that’s a relatively new release, it beats walking into a Blockbuster or Hollywood Video or whatever is still standing these days.

    Plus in one of the supermarkets around me (they all have a Redbox, or one of their imitators/competitors), it completely replaced the market’s own little video rental operation. I’m sure that’s a win for them in not having to deal with it anymore, or spend labor time running it.

  • Althea

    I used to work for the public library. It was amazing how many people don’t use their home addresses at all, especially apartment-dwellers. They have post office boxes, and if they have to go out to get their mail anyway, stopping at Walgreen’s isn’t that much of an inconvenience.

  • bichen frizzy

    I can understand why Redbox wouldn’t appeal to a movie critic. Most people, though, watch far fewer movies and they watch them impulsively, not on a schedule.

    For retailers that rent space to Redbox, the appeal should be obvious. Somebody else maintains it, it’s self-service, and it takes up very little floor space. It complements the soda machines and gumball machines.

    But no, if Netflix and Wal-Mart bargain bins didn’t doom Hollywood, then Redbox won’t. But Hollywood might be concerned that Redbox will put downward pressure on rental prices, and it fights anything that threatens even 0.01% of its profit margin.

  • pjowens75

    No. Redbox isn’t going to kill Hollywood. Hollywood is going to kill itself, and has been on a downward spiral towards suicide for years. Unless it starts backing orinal creative ideas instead of remakes and sequels, it’s a done deal.

  • There’s a RedBox kiosk at the walmart grocery I go to, just down the street from my house. Every single time I’ve tried to get a movie out of it, the one I wanted was unavailable. I like the idea, and it’s certainly not going to kill hollywood (any more than piracy will), but in practice it’s like a shitty version of Netflix. I can’t think of a single reason to choose RedBox over Netflix, unless you just HAVE to see a movie RIGHT NOW. But even then, in my experience, it won’t be in stock in the machine anyway.

  • pjowens75 (Wed Aug 26 09, 2:42PM):

    No. Redbox isn’t going to kill Hollywood. Hollywood is going to kill itself, and has been on a downward spiral towards suicide for years. Unless it starts backing orinal creative ideas instead of remakes and sequels, it’s a done deal.

    This is a little naive, don’t you think? We may not like the remakes and sequels, but they are making the studios truckloads of money… and a strong case can be made that they’re the industry’s lifeblood. Hell, the best movie of the summer was Star Trek, and that was both a sequel and a remake.

  • Dr Rocketscience

    No. Redbox isn’t going to kill Hollywood. Hollywood is going to kill itself, and has been on a downward spiral towards suicide for years. Unless it starts backing orinal creative ideas instead of remakes and sequels, it’s a done deal.

    Yes, years. Decades, even. I mean, no one really likes movies anymore anyway. Especially sequels. Folks avoid those like the plague. I wonder when they’ll finally hit bottom and just stop making the silly things. Can’t be more than a few more weeks now. {/sarcasm}

    Seriously, though, if Redbox is a threat to anyone, it’s Blockbuster, who had worked themselves up over $6 to rent a recently released DVD. Of course, Blockbuster responded by adopting a $1/day pricing structure, but I noticed that all the Blockbusters near me (Colorado Front Range) have cut back on operating hours. Coincidence? I doubt it.

    The studios are bitching for the same reason they always bitch: they can’t control it yet. They were like this with Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, and Netflix. Hell, even back to VCR’s and cable TV. If Redbox continues to be successful, they’ll eventually cut a deal with the studios to get “Redbox rental only” copies of DVDs – just like Blockbuster did – just to shut them up. (Incidentally, do the studios still get away with charging $100/unit for “rental” copies like they did in the ’80s and ’90s?)

    As for the popularity of Redbox, note that Netflix didn’t kill the big rental stores. Sure, Netflix has a huge library and stay-at-home service. But, you have to rent 10-20 movies a month before you drop down to Redbox’s pricing. (Yes, that assumes you’re conscientious about returning your movies the next day, which no one is. But that’s been the video rental business’ worst kept dirty little secret for 30 years.) Also, Netflix has a 2-5 day turnaround, no good for impulse renting. Netflix’s settop/Xbox/PC streaming service mitigates that somewhat, but that service is really in its infancy. The selection of “Watch Now” titles represents a tiny fraction of Netflix’s library, and rarely includes new releases. Redbox’s only have new releases, are always a buck, and are getting pretty ubiquitous – in addition to Walgreen’s, I see them at Walmart, most supermarkets, some Target stores, and, McDonalds. Amusingly, the McD boxes are usually situated next to the drive-thru lane, resulting in a line of people blocking a line of cars. Brilliant, that.

  • allochthon

    Huh. I’ve never looked closely at Redbox. I figured they burned the DVD for you right there in the box.

  • Me too, allochthon! That’s why I was so surprised that I couldn’t get the movies I wanted. You’d think that’s the logical way to do it, unlimited copies, but can you imagine the studios signing off on a movie duplication machine?

    Of course, it’s ridiculous, because if I want to I can copy any DVD or Blu-Ray in less than an hour… it’s this weird thing nobody talks about. I know a 76 year old guy I used to work with, and all he does is order Netflix, copy the discs, and send them back. Dozens a month. Not even sure why… he’s just making a movie library because he can.

    Anyways, the point is, if RedBox could just spit out a DVD of any movie ever made, they’d make millions of dollars. And the technology exists NOW for that to happen. It might take a few minutes to burn the disc, but I’d pay $1 for that. Easy.

  • Hell, billions!

  • Kate

    I haven’t seen a single one of these things yet! I live in California, are most of you guys on the East Coast, perhaps? I certainly get out into supermarkets and drugstores as much as anyone else. Seems odd I would not have seen a single one.

    It certainly sounds like a dumb idea/step back to me. I mean, if you could get the movie right then and there, to appeal to the impulse crowd, okay I get that. But having to make a special trip back to the same store to return it? That was always the worst part of the video store–that, and not having the titles you want in stock, which sounds like it’s also a problem here.

    So it seems like basically putting a small, cheap video rental store inside the supermarket. Which, as Bill Mason alluded to, many stores used to have on their own, anyway! So how is this a new idea?

    I’ll stick with Netflix. Plus, hockey season starts in just over a month, so my movie consumption rate is gonna drop dramatically….

  • I haven’t seen a single one of these things yet! I live in California, are most of you guys on the East Coast, perhaps?

    For what it’s worth, I’m near Portland Oregon.

    The RedBox site has a location search (http://www.redbox.com/Locations/KioskSearch.aspx) if you’re morbidly curious. ;)

  • e

    It’s not replacing netflix, it’s in addition to it. They complement eachother. Netflix doesn’t always get you the new releases on time, or the day you can watch it (for me its get togethers with friends), so once a month at most, you drop by grocery store to get some snacks, and get a redbox dvd for a buck. It’s the same if you forgot to move a new release up your queue, or as said above, spur of the moment. You don’t need to do it online at all, you can reserve online, but don’t have to. Registering/picking a movie can be done at the kiosk. And you can return them to any redbox machine, with so many, its not that hard to make a stop. It fills a small niche of my movie needs, but it’s so cheap it makes up for it.

  • Jerry Colvin

    You don’t have to do anything online at all to use Redbox. You have the ability to, but normally you wouldn’t, unless you want to reserve a movie. Also, you don’t have to make a special trip to the same Redbox machine to return it. You can drop it in any Redbox machine (here in Louisville, they’re on every other block). These started at McDonald’s (yes, we all know it’s not cool to like McDonald’s so save your breath) but quickly spread after Coinstar bought them out. Redbox is nothing to fear, just like Netflix was nothing to fear. You don’t have to like one over the other. It is possible to like both, or neither.

  • Jerry Colvin

    Oops, I should have read the last post instead of adding my two cents in a rabid fury. Anyway, what “e” said…

  • LaSargenta

    Redbox only popped into my consciousness last year when my oldest friend (who lives in a rural area of the midwest) got a gig doing a Redbox route (refilling the machines, running mechanical checks, maintenance, etc.) that fit in with her other work hours.

    As I understand it, you don’t have to do the internet-reservation thing: Just turn up, look what’s there, choose one, put in yer $$ and take yer movie — and return it. It seemed that most of the locations in her area were pretty much places where the local “elites” (the family who owns the ethanol plant? the owner of the chain of assisted-living facilities throughout a dozen rural prairie counties who is on a watch-list from the state HHS? the corporate reps of the pig-slaughtering facility?) wouldn’t be spending much time or money BUT where you could be certain to get their employees or former (now-laid-off) employees to turn up a couple of times a week or more.

    THAT is the market that I thought Redbox was aiming for…a way for Hollywud to get a few pennies from people who definately wouldn’t be getting to a multiplex very often and who wouldn’t be buying $15 dvd’s.

  • The place I see Redboxes most often is outside the local convenience stores and the one person I know who uses them is (1) living on a fixed income, (2) doesn’t have home Internet access and (3) doesn’t own a car.

    Plus for her, it’s more convenient to walk a few yards down to the local 7/11 and pick up a movie to watch with her grandkids than to walk or take a bus to the local Blockbusters which is over a block or two away–and more expensive to boot.

    As for me, I prefer Netflix, but then that’s because most of the stuff I wish to see on DVD aren’t likely to be available in Redbox.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Five years later and Redbox is destined to go the same way as Blockbuster. Ironically, I know quite a few people who use it but apparently it was not enough.

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