In a petrol station car park in Oregon, a sight that was once commonplace now stands as a relic. Blockbuster used to be ubiquitous but the store in Bend is the last landmark of the legend of video rentals. The brand name will always ring true for the generations that grew up perusing videos and DVDs in store but that recognition is now nothing more than an exercise in nostalgia for those who don’t live in the region of Bend, Oregon. The inexorable rise of streaming may have reshaped society’s consumption of media but Blockbuster’s failure to adapt has led to its near-extinction.
The Washington Post has stated that, in the company’s heyday, a new Blockbuster store was opening every 17 hours. With a new Starbucks opening every 15 hours in China and a new McDonald’s cited to be opening every 14.5 hours, that gives an indication of the huge success that Blockbuster was experiencing at its peak.
Yet while people’s demand for coffee and fast food hasn’t wavered, society’s desire to physically rent their movies has almost waned to the point of disappearance. When Blockbuster was created in 1985 in Texas, the stores provided a unique purpose in an efficient system. That domestic success soon translated internationally, with the BBC reporting that the glory days of Blockbuster saw the company develop over 4,000 overseas stores.
Glory days long gone
As Bruce Springsteen famously declared, glory days will inevitably pass you by. Blockbuster executives can likely pinpoint the exact moment at which they saw their glory days start to slip away. Some global businesses, like Starbucks and McDonald’s, offer products so timeless that any innovation is merely tinkering with a trusted formula. Companies dependent on technology have to pre-empt, or at the very least respond immediately, to changing demands.
The way that society consumes movies and television shows has radically changed with the advent of streaming services such as Netflix. The rise of Netflix alone would have proven painful viewing for Blockbuster executives, but that pain is heightened by the incredibly costly mistake made by Blockbuster in 2000. Netflix sought to join forces with Blockbuster in a deal that would have cost the video store $50 million. Blockbuster baulked at the cost and rejected Netflix’s proposal, with Betway ranking that business decision among the worst ever made. The two companies’ divergent trajectories since has confirmed the gross fallacy of that decision, with Blockbuster obsolete and Netflix one of the most famous companies in the world.
Blockbuster’s inability to adapt has been further compounded by how Netflix has consistently driven change in the home movie industry. The transition from mail-order DVD rentals to the online streaming giant that we now know was achieved with great efficacy. Netflix continues to respond to the pressures to innovate in order to fend off the growing competition, with huge companies like Amazon and Disney devising their own video platform in hope of seizing a share of a lucrative market.
Netflix now regularly creates their own televisual and cinematic content for their subscribers, a population that ranked at just under 118 million at the start of 2018. This could ultimately plunge broadcast television into the same struggles of irrelevance to which Blockbuster succumbed. Blockbuster will never usurp Netflix and other streaming giants, but its biggest hope of some form of prolonged survival could counter-intuitively arise from its archaic nature.
Retro back in fashion
Blockbuster fans will be clinging on to the last vestige of hope that the decline is not irreversible. They may find solace in recent successes of retro products. A new miniature version of the PlayStation Classic is set to be released by Sony in December 2018, featuring 20 pre-set games that will take a generation back to carefree childhood gaming. An early review from The Verge calls it “as simple and as fun as you’d expect”, a testament to the power of nostalgia.
In the world of music, nostalgia is similarly wielding its power. Vinyl records have enjoyed a resurgence, Statista reporting that 14 million LPs were sold in the United States in 2017. That figure had risen by more than 1,000% in the preceding decade, so perhaps videos and DVDs can enjoy a similar revival to that of music. Of course, vinyl is not the dominant means of music, with streaming companies like Spotify having a stranglehold on sales. Yet vinyl’s ability to inspire a global fanbase of people passionate enough to devote time and finances to their hobby gives hope to video lovers.
Vinyl’s strength is that music purists consider it the best way to experience albums. The videos for which Blockbuster initially became famous will never make a comeback because, unless you’re a devotee of rewinding tapes, they are cannot match other playback experiences. DVD, however, remains ideal for somebody unwilling to sign up to streaming subscriptions or somebody without a reliable internet connection.
The value of nostalgia should not be underestimated. For those who lived through the halcyon days of Blockbuster, there will be a level of sentiment attached to the rental store. That is a quality that no online streaming service can offer. Variety reported that physical DVD sales plummeted in 2017 by 14%, but that decline makes it a market that is still worth $4.7 billion.
Generations will still consider holding a DVD, whether bought or rented, as a special experience. Society often goes through cycles, so perhaps while Blockbuster clings to life in Bend, there is hope that the company can enjoy a more widespread resurgence. A failure to anticipate the incredible growth of online streaming, and of Netflix in particular, may have pushed Blockbuster to the brink, but the power of nostalgia could one day bring it back.