It’s been years in the making, but DISH has finally pulled video store rental chain Blockbuster off life support. The company announced today that it will shutter Blockbuster’s remaining 300 retail stores in the US and cease its DVD mail distribution service.
Blockbuster by Mail will halt in mid-December, while retail stores have until early January 2014 to wrap things up. Franchised and licensed stores, both in the US and abroad, will remain open, but I have to assume that they’re living on borrowed time. The Blockbuster brand will live on through DISH’s Blockbuster @Home movie channels and its Blockbuster on Demand streaming service.
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In 2010, Blockbuster became the last national movie rental chain when competitor Movie Gallery closed its Hollywood Video stores after filing for bankruptcy. Later that year, Blockbuster also filed for bankruptcy.
DISH stepped in to win the resulting auction for Blockbuster in 2011 with a $228 million bid. The firm tried to keep the movie-rental business alive for a couple years, but it has been steadily downsizing as losses continued.
The death of movie-rental chains isn’t bound to be much of a surprise to anyone, but today’s news is worth noting because it clearly marks a definite end to a transaction that has been part of our collective social experience for decades. Without getting too nostalgic, it’s worth a brief moment to remember strolling rows of VHS tapes looking for the perfect film for a slumber party, that feeling in your gut when you realize a movie is overdue or that you forgot to rewind the tape. The communal video store experience played a formational role for filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith.
In many ways, video rentals, with their extra fees and limited supply, were hostile to the user, but there was also an element of serendipity and community to the experience.
When it comes to movies, we’re living in Netflix’s world now. Sure, there are other players, but Netflix started this whole chain of events with its disruptive DVD delivery service, and then bridged the gap into digital with its streaming offering. Redbox has carved out a niche with its DVD and Blu-Ray vending machines, but streaming is the future.
Movies are more accessible and affordable than they’ve ever been. We have virtually limitless content available to us on-demand, and much of it at no incremental cost. Still, as DISH quietly takes Blockbuster out back, I can’t help but feel a twinge of regret for the way things used to be.
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