Has anyone else noticed the stink of corporate tension when trying to rent a movie lately? It’s fairly palpable. The nations three major movie rental chains, Blockbuster, Redbox, and Netflix, are pawing and clawing at each other, rigging deals behind the others’ backs, and making it virtually impossible for anyone to have one simple, wonderful service which they can rely upon for carrying any and all of the movies they would like to see at their exact moment of availability.
Now, maybe this has been going on for awhile right under my nose and I didn’t really notice. After all, on the not terribly frequent occasion that I visit a Redbox, it’s usually to look for a movie that’s been out for a couple months—recent such endeavors have included This Is It, The Princess & the Frog, and The Time Traveler’s Wife (an underrated GEM of time-hopping Eric Bana-ry). Likewise, my Netflix queue is filled up mostly with decades-old classic and foreign films that Redbox (or Blockbuster, really) has no interest in carrying anyway. And if I had a nickel for every time I walked out of Blockbuster empty-handed, then I would also have a nickel for every time I walked into Blockbuster.
So while it might have taken me awhile to catch onto this battle, at the same time, I’m not the least bit surprised. I was—in some respect—present in the battle in its earliest (and most primitive) stages.
For about five years I worked for a company called Hollywood Video—a national video rental chain, currently owned by Movie Gallery, that is currently clinging desperately to its last few breaths. Somewhere around 2007, Blockbuster inked a deal with the fledgling Weinstein Company for distribution exclusivity on their movies.
Now while this was, in fact, the Weinstein Company—the distributor formed by former Miramax heads Bob and Harvey Weinstein—most of the movies that we missed out on weren’t exactly the huge hits. But every now and then, one would come along that we couldn’t just ignore.
Take movies like Grindhouse, The Mist, and Rob Zombie’s Halloween, for example. Weinstein titles, Blockbuster exclusives. Not the biggest theatrical hits, necessarily, but as genre films, they were pretty bankable to the rental market, and we would have been positively silly to go completely without these titles.
So each store had a mission: Each week that a specific Blockbuster-exclusive title was released, store managers were given a number—how many copies to go out and buy from the lowest-priced retailers they could find. And, as new releases have always been put out on Tuesdays, the managers were to complete this mission before the weekend hit.
And, at least at the store where I worked, most of them would usually get stolen anyway. And amid such chaos, Hollywood Video, in my city at least, is now a long-forgotten memory.
So, you see, this war is nothing new—it’s only escalated to its natural place of inevitable escalation. Redbox and Netflix are quickly becoming giants among their trade, and you can tell that Blockbuster—the long-standing Coca-Cola of the movie rental industry—is scared out of its mind.
Movie studios have been getting scared, too. I can only imagine that with Redbox and Netflix being such wonderfully low-cost deals, the studios now fear their DVD sales plummeting and, in response, Warner, Fox, and Universal have all made Netflix and Redbox agree to deals that restrict them from renting their titles for 28 days. Blockbuster, however, paid off the studios handsomely to avoid this handicap and street their titles immediately.
A smart move on Blockbuster’s part, as they would have surely bitten the dust very soon without such perks. But for those keeping track, that means movies like Sherlock Holmes, The Blind Side, Inglourious Basterds, and even that big ol’ Avatar were all made to wait patiently for Netflix and Redbox to start renting them, much to the chagrin of people who would rather not pay over $5.00 for a damn rental.
I guess I’m glad I’m out of that business now (although I’ll always miss those “good ol’ days”…does anyone else remember VHS???). There’s a real movie-rental madhouse a-brewin’ these days, and it can only end in tears.