Blockbuster Bids Farewell

Props for the classy goodbye: “To anyone that ever rented a movie or video game from Blockbuster, thank you so much for your patronage and allowing us to help you make it a “Blockbuster Night.”

Blockbuster, as a physical presence, finally threw in the proverbial towel and has called it quits. Home Media Magazine reports that plans are in place to close the last remaining brick-n-mortar stores by the end of the year. The brand will continue to live on, however, as Blockbuster@Home through parent company Dish Network.

It’s an end which has been a long time coming for the once-ubiquitous video rental store. It used to be that there was a Blockbuster store in every strip mall and it was a required stop for many people preparing for the weekend. My first Blu-ray player even had a dedicated Blockbuster channel.

After Blockbuster’s sale to Dish in 2011, there were some pundits who thought that Dish might use the name to launch a challenge to Netflix.

“This is very clever,” said Todd Mitchell, an analyst with Kaufman Brothers. “Dish can transition Blockbuster from a retail to a streaming model so you have basically a Netflix-like offering.”

The deal follows two others this year led by Dish Chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen that could transform the company into a major provider of on-demand video through its satellite system and eventually over a wireless network for handheld devices, according to analysts.

But now? It’s clear that the times have evolved beyond Blockbuster’s traditional business model and later attempts to catch up in the digital arena were too little, too late.

Long queues, much like this one.

Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of Blockbuster, which seemed interested only in supplying endless numbers of the top 10 titles du jour, seemingly without regard to anything more than a year old or with subtitles. I guess that’s the cinema snob in me (and yes, I’m exaggerating…but only a little).

Back in the day, when I saw 190-200 movies per year either in the theaters or on VHS, I think I only darkened the door of a Blockbuster a few dozen times. Still, they seemed to always have plenty of customers. (Other factors in my owner personal boycott? The long, LONG checkout lines on Fri/Sat nights and less-than-knowledgeable, overworked register jockeys.)

Long-time readers know that I’ve been on the Netflix bandwagon since 2000, when I signed up with the new service hoping NEVER to have to stand in a long line, be disappointed by one dimensional selection or have to race back to the store in order to avoid a late fee. Now I find plenty to watch, thanks to my broadband connection, on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu.

The fact is that other companies innovated around Blockbuster and other companies like them, leaving both major corporations and mom-n-pop stores in the dust. The upstarts delivered better selection and easier access. They followed that old saw of business: “Be where your customers are.” And for the American market in particular, customers were and are, in greater and greater numbers, on their mobile devices.

The world of home entertainment has been transformed by digital: video-on-demand, download-to-own, subscription VOD, UltraViolet, FlixFling and a host of other services which bring cinema to your device or to your living room with the push of a button. No lines, infinite selection and no late fees.

It’s worth acknowledging Blockbuster’s fade-to-black, if only as an object lesson never becoming complacent in business, even if…ESPECIALLY if you’re the market leader.

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