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R.I.P Blockbuster

Jimmy Kemper | Monday, November 18, 2013

It is the long-overdue end of an era. In a move that surprised no one, save for those of us who were not even aware that Blockbuster was actually still in business, the once-great giant of the home video industry announced that it would be closing its last 300 U.S. stores earlier this month. 

This final shutdown comes after a steady, precipitous decline since the company’s peak back in 2004, when it had over 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees. Since then, Blockbuster has been through many tough times, even filing for bankruptcy in 2010 and subsequently being taken over by Dish Network. 

Nov. 9 was the final day customers could pick up a movie from the rental chain. In an incredibly bizarre development, the final movie rented from Blockbuster overall was “This is the End,” the apocalyptic comedy starring Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco and a plethora of other stars. Either it’s an astounding coincidence that Blockbuster’s last rental was a story about the end of the world or that customer has a cruel sense of humor.

Perhaps Blockbuster deserved such an unremarkable death. After all, it did manage to ruthlessly shut down almost every single mom-and-pop video store in America singlehandedly.  Blockbuster’s demise, for the most part, was brought upon itself by failing to keep up with the times. It seems that the video store titan practically ignored the rise of competitive streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, certain that people would always be happy paying tragically high late fees. 

Netflix managed to revolutionize the video industry in ways that Blockbuster could have never imagined. The initial offering of DVDs through the mail was simply outstanding. Who wouldn’t enjoy the ability to rent DVDs without ever having to leave their own home? And their movie offering was just simply better than what one could find at their local Blockbuster. Plus, the lack of late fees was every lazy customer’s dream. But then Netflix absolutely blew everything out of the water with the introduction of their streaming service and the promises of unlimited movies and shows whenever you want. You would have been lucky to find all of the discs for just one season of a show at Blockbuster. 

Despite all of Netflix’s increasing success, Blockbuster did next to nothing in order to fight back against competition in an industry in which it was at one point the only player. Sure, they tried to introduce automatic rental kiosks, but Redbox was already light-years ahead of them in that realm and even managed to do it without late fees. Netflix even offered to sell themselves to Blockbuster at one point for only $50 million. The dinosaur of a company refused the offer, however, confident that things would never change. 

The changes in the home entertainment industry have been absolutely wonderful for the consumer, for the most part. While I absolutely love binge-watching all of my favorite shows for days on end, there is a certain something lacking in the experience. Blockbuster actually managed to be a sort of social experience, a chance to get out of the house for a while on a quest to find something new. Browsing through the shelves, hoping to find the newest superhero movie, but ending up going home with a cheesy 80’s horror movie that you knew you were going to hate was a special kind of interaction with the outside world, a kind that future generations are never going to understand. Should all of this be left behind?

Perhaps so. Perhaps there is no going back. Perhaps streaming is simply the way of the future, the way entertainment was meant to be viewed. Or maybe not. Nostalgia always has a way of kicking back in, and maybe one day communities will band together to support local video stores again, where more classic and hard-to-find titles could be found. Until that day comes, it looks like we’re going to be spending a great deal of time in the dark, binge-streaming our shows. 

Contact Jimmy Kemper at jkemper2@nd.edu