Now the fields are all bare And the cotton won’t grow Me and my family’s gotta pack up and go But I’ll make a living, just where, I don’t know ‘Cause I’m Busted
I’ve always hated Blockbuster Video. Only when forced by a complete void of other options will I ever rent there. Their prices are absurd and their selection of films older than ten years is pathetic. And while good video stores are staffed by film fans, sometimes highly knowledgeable ones, Blockbuster’s goon squad is completely interchangeable with any other minimum-wage armpit, full of teens who were working at Burger King last summer and sad adults too incompetent to get hired at Target. The last time I deigned to enter a Blockbuster was four years ago in Arizona. When I asked the clerk if they had Predator, as I could barely believe the film was too obscure for them to carry, the guy (the guy) asked me “Is that a new release?” So it gives me a certain amount of twisted pleasure every time I read about Blockbuster’s financial woes and their big schemes to bury Netflix and Redbox and iTunes.
For those of you who don’t even give enough of a shit about Blockbuster to pay attention to such things (which I really hope is most of you), lemme catch you up to speed:
* In 2009 Blockbuster closed down 374 in the US. This year they announced they’d close 500-545.
* In February they closed all their operations in Portugal. A month later they started moving towards selling off the entirety of their European locations.
* In March they issued a bankruptcy warning after continued drops in revenue threatened their ability to service their nearly $1 billion debt load.
* In July the company was de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange.
* When they couldn’t make a $42.4 million interest payment to bondholders they were given until August 13 to pay it off. They failed to pay. The bondholders gave Blockbuster until September 30.
Put simply: they’re dying. They’ve already gone through Denial and presumably Anger. Lately they seem to be at Bargaining, vying harder to get involved with the digital business. Last week business mag Fast Company interviewed Kevin Lewis, head of Blockbuster’s “digital strategy.” “Our goal is to be everywhere that you would imagine there should be movies,” he said. “Our mantra is: No channel left behind, no title left behind.” No title left behind? That doesn’t sound like the Blockbuster I know.
Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes failed to see the digital storm coming. Unsurprising, considering he told Fast Company that figuring out how to get movies from his “Nintendo machine to the screen” makes his “head hurt to think about.” Kevin Lewis is the new blood, supposedly better in tune with the marketplace and people’s attitudes. Can he pull them out of this tailspin?
Well, he’s got a lot of negative things to say about the competition: “I look at Apple–and I love Apple for a lot of reasons–but I find it unconscionable that Apple forces you to buy their hardware and their content from a single provider in order for it to work. That’s not the way the world should work. We’ve said: Buy movies from us, play them anywhere. We think that’s the right model.” That makes sense. Go where the other guy can’t/won’t.
Though when talking about Netflix, Lewis’ logic start getting iffier. “I really appreciate that Netflix is helping consumers understand that movies can be delivered through the Internet. What I don’t like about Netflix is that they’ve diminished the user experience and movie quality. They’re doing a minimum to get that HD stamp, but they’ve done all the tech-wizardry in the background to make the file smaller and quality lower.”
Blockbuster has a movie download feature on the Droid X, which allows you to download films via wi-fi. Lewis seems to think very little of streaming video. In fact, considering he is working for Blockbuster, Lewis seems a little incongruously concerned with the filmgeek aspects of all this. This is the chain that will fill up two entire shelving units with films like Transformers 2 and then potentially not have a single copy of Let the Right One In. Why? It’s not cause they have an agenda against quality cinema, they’re just pandering to their demo – the normals. But the normals abandoned them for Redbox and Netflix. I kind of think that normals don’t give as much of a shit about the tech stuff as Lewis does. Normals want things cheap and easy and now.
So this raises the question: is Blockbuster still off base with what their customers want? Or is Lewis seeking to carve out a whole new place in the market? He clearly sees Blockbuster becoming the high-end version of Netflix, where people like Chewers will go to get their hands on the better picture quality and sound. If this is the case, the real question is if Blockbuster can get their fast enough. There is a chance Blockbuster might not be able to stay afloat long enough to make any of this happen. They’ve basically been dying a slow painful death since Viacom spun them off back in 1999, leaving them saddled with massive debt. Doctors keep giving them another year, but how long can they really last?
Lewis says Netflix takes their costumers for granted, but I don’t see Netflix resting on their laurels anytime soon, especially not if Blockbuster is gunnin’ for them. And we haven’t even mentioned that Comcast is adding 9,000 films to their ever growing in-demand vault.
I guess we’ll see where the wind blows.
Did you know… every time a Blockbuster retail store closes, an angel gets its wings.