EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: THE BUSTING OF BLOCKBUSTER

Every time I hear that Blockbuster, the little rental outlet that could, is having business troubles, I get a little smile on my face and a spring to my step. If they all can’t burn down in one spectacular, choreographed display of destruction, I’ll take the total closure of the chain as a decent substitution.

I hate the company, and I can’t say it much simpler than that. When it first started, it did everything it could to restrict content of movies and homogenize our viewing pleasure. I believe it is part of the reason people hate subtitles and widescreen DVDs. (I can’t link that to anything; it’s just my hate showing through.) It had asinine policies for employees, and actually opening an account there was far more difficult than it should have been. And don’t even get me started on its titles. Bland!

The rise of Netflix was just one of the many nails in Blockbuster’s clamshell coffin. Now, I don’t use Netflix, and I’ve rented maybe two movies from Blockbuster my entire life (out of necessity more than anything else), but I would definitely choose Netflix over the blue giant. It’s more convenient, you don’t have to deal with idiot employees and equally moronic customers, and the selection is better. The only good thing I can say about Blockbuster is that if I want to rent “Must Love Dogs” the week it comes out, it will be in stock … maybe.

I’ve had friends who’ve worked at Blockbuster, and I know people who currently work there (and they fill me in on all kinds of nasty business dealings). What I’ve learned is that nothing much has changed in all these years. It’s the same ol’ same ol’, but now you may be able to find “The Last House on the Left” on its shelves. The customers still hate subtitles and widescreen, and the employees still agree with them. Corporate policies aren’t much different, either.

Besides poor financial planning, Blockbuster’s biggest mistake was not changing with the times (and feeling that it could compete with a company like Netflix). As customers got more movie savvy, Blockbuster should have progressed with them by stocking better titles and hiring people who knew their stuff. The company didn’t, so guess what happened? It got the kind of clientele it deserved. It now attracts people looking for the lowest common denominator (LCD) in all their entertainment choices. Since Blockbuster specializes in that, you’d think the company would be doing well, right? Wrong.

Customers who adhere to the LCD rule are a notoriously lazy and easily manipulated bunch. They have no loyalty, and they don’t spend a whole lot of money because value drives them more than anything else. When the LCD customer goes to Blockbuster for “White Chicks” and it isn’t there, he may get something else, but next time will go to another video rental store first. As Blockbuster took some financial hits from stuff like the “end of late fees” (in quotes because it wasn’t entirely true), it found itself unable to keep certain films on the shelf. The circle of life then becomes complete.

I don’t believe in karma, but if it were real, this would be a perfect example. After all those years of insulting die-hard movie fans with a business plan that just reeked of “entertainment value,” the company is finally swallowing some of the venom it has injected into the industry. Complaints are rising. Money is flowing to different venues. Some distributors won’t work with the company until they get the money they are owed. It looks like the chain’s curtain call is on its way, and I’m applauding its final act. It can’t happen soon enough, frankly, but I am willing to wait. You have to have patience for something this good. It’ll either go under, or some company like Hollywood Video will buy it out. Either way, I’m guessing the Blockbuster name becomes a footnote in video rental history within the next three years, and then I can finally say, “Happy days are here again.” And I’ll mean it.

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Posted on February 2, 2006 in Features by
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