New release from Blockbuster: The staff

As many of us have heard, DVD rental firm Blockbuster have recently entered bankruptcy and gone into administration. Unlike the immediate closure of Jessops stores when they closed their doors earlier in January, Blockbuster stores will soldier on until such a time as a kind soul with more money than sense buys them out (Morrisons has recently bought 49 of Blockbuster’s 528 stores to expand its convenience business).

The most interesting part of the story however, is what events led to the failure of Blockbuster? Once the UK’s most popular visual media outlet, how have they failed to maintain their seemingly infallible business approach?

Illogical is the fact that Blockbuster kept up ‘late fees’ for so long. With instant services such as Netflix and Lovefilm offering unlimited movie streaming for £5.99/month and £4.99/month respectively, why leave your house to rent a DVD only to get slammed with a late fee if you leave it stuck in your player for a couple of days?
Ask yourself, when did you last rent a film? By ‘renting’, I mean, of course, trudging out of the cozy confines of your living room to begrudgingly hand over a few quid to a member of staff who appears to be held against his will, almost urging you to move forward with your life and get yourself into the 21st century. That kind of renting. Never, I’m assuming.

The difficulties Blockbuster faced to maintain a profitable business were not down to their own failings however; instead they were symptomatic of the film industry as a whole.
With Netflix recently clocking in with 33m global users (as of January 2013) and even by 2010 iTunes controlling over 65% of online movie sales, it’s not difficult to see where the market is moving. Customers want convenience, and convenience is gained through a one-click purchase and an easy download, not a depressing hike into town to rent a battered old DVD case.

Personally, I subscribe to Lovefilm instant at present – for a mere fiver a month I can watch as many films as my heart desires. Sure, the choice of titles is limited and the streaming quality operates on a scale of poor to….poor, but it’s the ease of use that makes it a winning service.

Netflix is also excellent in this respect, but for us folk in the UK, the selection is brief unless you’re willing to dive into a world of obscure American TV shows and films with “SUPER” preceding every word in the title. It’s also a whole pound more expensive. A handy pound for sure, if you’re still driving to your local Blockbuster.
For an extra £5, I can have DVDs and Blu-rays delivered to my door hassle-free from Lovefilm. Blockbuster offer this service for an identical price, minus the instant streaming, and this may be a lifeline for securing their future.

Granted, it’s a tad depressing that the shelves of Currys and Comet will soon be totally replaced by the digital shelves of Amazon, and the battered shelves of Blockbuster will be replaced with the tidy shelves of online streaming services, but convenience is the order of the day for modern retail and media consumption.

Do you think the failure of Blockbuster’s high street stores is a sign of progress for digital media, or a sad reminder that we’re all soon to become digital automatons? Comment below with your thoughts.

Ben Buffone

I'm a web designer, journalist and student in my last year of A-Levels. Joined Geekily in February 2013.

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4 Responses

  1. James Smith says:

    I walked around the sticky floors of my local Blockbusters three years ago, struggling to find a title that was half decent, since all the new releases had been taken by people who presumably waited at the door before it opened, then barged in and grabbed them all.

    When I finally did mange to squeeze past tattooed parents, holding beer cans, oblivious their screeching kids running amok, I reached down in desperation to the bottom shelf to pick up a UK Film Council Brit flick, handed the dirty, sticky case to the spotty attendant who said it was rubbish and not to bother. So at this point – knowing that the online digital revolution in film rental was imminent – I assumed that the Blockbuster executives must surely have been planning to ditch these unsavoury stores for a shiny new online model.

    But alas this was not the case, and the question one has to ask is: if as a lowly consumer I had spotted the problem all those months and years ago, what could the senior executives of the company possibly have been doing with their time?

  2. Ben Buffone says:

    Putting their feet up and watching the footstools crumble beneath them?

  3. James Smith says:

    Carrying on this topic, an interesting rumour I heard was that the UK broadband infrastructure is not prepared for sites like Netflix and Lovefilm; if you have more than 10 people in your street streaming concurrently, it can’t cope.

  4. Ben Buffone says:

    I can imagine that totally depends on where in the country you are, and the speed at which the connection runs at, and therefore the available bandwidth for a group of households.

    Anyway, Netflix has a fraction of UK users compared to those in the US, I can’t imagine that will ever be an immediate issue for many.

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