Remember going to the Video Rental Store? Believe it or not, there was a time when watching a newly released movie at home was a special occasion.
Families would make a trip to their local rental store, decide on one or two movies together and maybe even grab some candy or popcorn to take home. It was a special event — something truly nostalgic to look back on.
Now, most of those video rental stores are gone. There is exactly one Blockbuster left in the United States, and as The Verge contributor Bijan Stephen wrote upon visiting, “part of the reason it’ll stay open is because it is the last.”
They have been replaced by restaurants, retail outlets, and yes, sometimes the spaces just remain vacant. This is due to the changes in how our culture consumes media. For many, there is no reason to go to a movie rental store when a few clicks of a button will save you the trip and the time.
Without a doubt, the internet has played some role in this. Media was more or less treated as a free commodity. The entertainment industry had to make extreme changes in order to survive. This begs questions about the place of physical media in our society, and furthermore, the future of video rental stores.
Streaming as a Necessary Evil
If you were born in the early 90s or before, you might remember Napster. Napster was the first file sharing service to deal a substantial strike to the media and entertainment industry. For the first time, music and movies were able to be downloaded off of the internet for free.
The entertainment industry suffered a lot from file sharing networks like Napster. That’s why they have invested in affordable streaming services just to compete. Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have done a great job of bringing video into the home legally. They still pay the people responsible for creating it — but at the end of the day, they are still necessary evils.
The phenomenon of smartphone usage has contributed even more to this. In 2016, the American Graphics Institute said that “mobile devices downloaded 10 billion gigabytes of data” and that data is “growing at a significant pace of more than 125% year over year.”
Only a few months after that article was published, mobile web usage surpassed desktop usage for the first time. In addition to the growth of mobile commerce, mobile streaming continues to hike as well, reflecting its normalcy in our society.
Physical Storefronts In The Age of E-Commerce
Many people may know this, but Netflix originally started as an online DVD rental store. “E-commerce,” or online shopping, was still developing to become what we know it as today. Netflix’s online rental services were still subscription-based like their streaming service is now. They used to mail DVD rentals to customers’ front doors. This eliminated some of the need to go to a video rental store.
Another important factor however was Redbox DVD rentals. Redbox kiosks were typically placed outside of grocery stores, retail giants, and restaurants, and saved families an extra trip to the movie stores to rent movies that had just been released. The combination of Redbox and Netflix got the ball rolling for movie rentals outside of video stores. Still, some of those businesses (such as Family Video) have survived by utilizing both physical and digital storefronts. Even Blockbuster was successful doing this early on, and was once described as an “e-commerce hot shot.”
The emergence of e-commerce hasn’t necessary killed physical outlets in modern culture. Things like Small Business Saturday exist to celebrate brick-and-mortar stores and bring thousands of customers into a physical shopping arenas every year. For entertainment though, navigating both worlds may be necessary, and will require some extra marketing expertise. From social media ads to e-commerce SEO, digital marketing techniques must be learned in addition to the print and physical advertisements of yesteryear.
Living In An Age of Streaming
We now live in a world where streaming is a normal way to consume media. These days Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime inhabit suburban homes. You would be hard pressed to find a video rental store inhabiting multiple streets of a major metropolitan area. Yet, there is still hope. Just as e-commerce hasn’t wiped out brick-and-mortar stores completely, streaming hasn’t knocked out every video store either.
In addition to Family Video’s success story, many local stores have been able to thrive in their communities. Similar to how the last Blockbuster holds a mythology at its physical location, it would seem that other stores do as well. Small town economies may still support businesses they feel loyalty too.
There may also be hope for video rental stores in the fact that not every movie is available on a streaming service. Certain movies have become pieces of history that streaming services haven’t managed to take control of. While Netflix and Hulu certainly have a hold on the entertainment industry, they don’t necessarily own it. They’re leaving room for at least a few video rental places to exist still.
As long as there’s people who enjoy the physical act of renting and watching movies, video stores will still be around. They’ve taken quite the hit from the digital age of media, but the experience of renting and watching a movie still holds a special place in some people’s hearts. This has allowed specific video rental stores to stick around, and while it’s not what it used to be, it’s not a dead practice either.
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