In this digital age, the convenience of the Internet has put video rental sales on the brink of extinction.
Blockbuster, once a movie rental powerhouse, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2010. The company announced in 2009 that 960 stores would be closed by 2011. Shifts in media consumption have affected both Dutchess and Ulster County, as Blockbuster stores in Poughkeepsie, Pleasant Valley, Kingston and New Paltz announced they will be shutting their doors. The stores remain open, but only to sell merchandise at a highly discounted rate.
Nicole Curcio, a New Paltz Blockbuster employee, said there has been a great community response in terms of selling the store’s DVD’s. While Curcio was not surprised by the closing of the store, as she knew Blockbuster was in debt and could physically see the number of people walking into the store go down, it has still hit hard.
“I’m sad I’m going to lose my job, I knew the store inside and out. I knew most of my customers by name and some of them even offered me jobs when they found out what was happening,” Curcio said.
Despite the fact that many Blockbuster locations are shutting down, their On Demand program will continue. Blockbuster On Demand allows users to watch digital movies instantly on their PC or TV through blockbuster.com and also lets users exchange their movies in stores.
While the Blockbuster program includes games and Blu-rays – which Netflix does not – it has new releases available a month before Netflix. 2.9 million people visited their website in July 2010, a 72.6 percent decrease from July 2007. Netflix had 21.7 million visitors in 2010, a 132.9 percent increase from 2007. To wow more users and perhaps cushion the blow of bankruptcy, Blockbuster is offering a free DVD to those who sign up at a closing location for a free one month trial of the On Demand program.
Film and Video Professor Gregory Bray has mixed views on the rise of digital media, being both a consumer and a professional in the business. He is pleased with it in regards to the fact that when he needed to cut costs last summer to buy a house, he was able to buy a box connected to a wireless router and his television. This provided him with 25 independent Internet channels, while allowing him to cancel cable and only pay a monthly fee. It also gave him total control over the media he was watching.
“Appointment-based television is not going to last much longer,” Bray said. “There are very few ‘I need to sit in front of my TV right now and watch this’ programs anymore.”
From a filmmaking perspective, Bray believes there are positives and negatives that arise with these changes. On one hand, this new digital world has “opened doors for new methods of distribution.” When Bray and his class made the documentary “A Horse Connection,” they normally would have needed $2 million dollars for print and ads so that a theatrical company would pick it up. Instead, they submitted their film to snagfilms.com, an online media distributor that allows people to pay and “snag” the film.
Bray believes that since less people are actually going to the movies, there have been and will be more “tent pole” productions. This means much safer movies, meant to hold up, will be made rather than risky ones. Companies are going for “sure things” to draw people to the theaters, rather than quirky Indie films.
Bray believes that in the future no big rental chains will exist because it’s not a sustainable model and making a living through rentals and sales has become increasingly difficult. He does think that there will still be a handful of stores left in the country as there’s a nostalgia for video stores.
“The experience of going to a place, speaking to people and sharing love for something will still be around,” Bray said.
For many students, video stores were prominent in their youth, but as technology has grown, so have they, instilling a sense of nostalgia, but an appreciation for convenience as well. Second-year graphic design major and film enthusiast Spencer Churchill is on the fence about this issue. He remembers how scanning the aisles for the scariest movies possible was the extent of excitement in his small suburban town.
“I have been a worshipper of all things film since as long as I can remember,” Churchill said. “There was a Video King right down the street from me and I would always walk, mind you the opposite way to my house, to check out the latest arrivals lit up by these awesome round light bulbs that for some reason just looked like the movies.”
Despite these fond memories, Churchill admits he could not live without Netflix. To a film fan, he describes it as “literally like walking through aisles of a huge fucking video store.”
However, he is still concerned with the future of film as technology continues to develop.
“Sure, this [Netflix] is awesome, but will it replace home ownership of movies? Will it totally overpower the movie theater all together? I’m not sure, but to be completely honest, it would not surprise me in the least,” he said.
It seems as if Netflix has solidified itself as a cultural staple. Second-year communication disorders major Auburn Heller recalls a time this year when her Child Development professor asked her class “Who has Netflix?” About 60 percent of the students raised their hands. The professor then told the class to watch “The Business of Being Born” on Netflix, and said that people without it should use someone’s account or just get it themselves.
Heller uses Netflix and Megavideo, both of which were helpful when growing up in an area with no video stores nearby. She says she doesn’t know anything you can’t get between the two services.
It is undeniable that video streaming sites such as Netflix and Megavideo have impacted the film and rental industries greatly and that there are both major pro’s and con’s to these advances, but such advances seem to have been inevitable.
“It’s a sign of the times,” Bray said. “How people get their media is constantly evolving.”