Blockbuster's very likely upcoming bankruptcy filing might have a lot of Netflix and Redbox users claiming victory. Me? I'm sad. The loss of Blockbuster is a loss for everybody.
To be fair, filing for bankruptcy doesn't mean that Blockbuster will close all its stores and go away entirely. It might just mean that they're going to consolidate their into more profitable markets, and close down somewhere around 50 per cent or 70 per cent of their lower-performing stores. That might mean the one next to you! Here's why this would be bad, even if you don't actually patronise Blockbuster.
These two companies provide much the same type of service right now - mailing you X number of discs per month, for a recurring fee, that you can keep as long as you keep paying them. Netflix, however, provides a smaller percentage of their library for free, over-the-net streaming, whereas Blockbuster is still only offering pay-per-view streaming titles.
But without Blockbuster being the only competition for Netflix's Blu-ray-by-mail service, what's the incentive on keeping its service quality high? With no alternative to turn to, Netflix can shrink the number of discs they keep in their inventory, lengthening your wait times, and lowering their operating costs. Netflix would be the only game in town if you want to rent slightly older, non-new-release titles that can't be found at Redbox.
Netflix really wants to make the move to streaming every movie to you, digitally, because it costs them 10 times less than mailers. But it's not entirely up to Netflix - it's up to movie studios and whether or not they're willing to let their products be viewed that way. And as you know, movie studios move at glacial speeds.
The new player offers new-release DVD rentals for $US1 and Blu-rays for $US1.50. It's the type of place you'd go to if you really must watch a movie now, and don't want to wait two nights for your Netflix disc to arrive.
If Blockbuster goes down, what incentive is there for Redbox to keep their prices low? To keep their distribution-boxes well stocked? Local mom-and-pop stores? Doubtful. If things go down this path, your only choices for in-person physical disc rentals might be from a phone booth that offers a very small selection of movies (and no games). What about the gamers! Where do they turn to now?
Why I'd miss Blockbuster
As an actual Blockbuster customer, I'm going to be extra-saddened if they close up shop. I pay $US20 a month for three in-the-mail rentals, like with Netflix. I'm also able to exchange each one of these rentals in-store, immediately, with a physical movie, which satisfies my watch-it-right-now urge I get once in a while. Plus, all of these are Blu-ray.
Because I signed up for my plan years ago, I got grandfathered into have two free video game or movie rental coupons a month, bringing the value up that much higher. And, thanks to the recent addition of game rentals through the mail, Blockbuster eliminates the need for me to sign up for a separate plan to Gamefly. All this for just a Jackson every month.
That's not to say Blockbuster's doing everything right. The lack of internet streaming option is a big mistake, even though I prefer 1080p Blu-rays to Netflix's HD streams. (Seriously, if you have a decent TV and a good audio setup, you can definitely tell the difference between a 1080p Blu-ray and an internet-streamed video.) And, late fees have always been and will always be a pain. But in a few years, when I have kids and want to show them that obscure movie from the '80s starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara and unicorns, what options do I have? Redbox surely won't have it, so my only hope is that by then, every movie will be streamable.