Blockbuster Is Dead. Long Live The Stream!



rexusa_197084n1Photo: Greg Watts/REX USA.
Blockbuster is going the way of the dodo. Yesterday, DISH Network, which purchased the company in 2011, announced it would shutter its 303 Blockbuster retail stores in the U.S. This hardly comes as a surprise, though. In fact, unless you live in San Antonio, El Paso, Las Vegas, or Anchorage, you probably haven't even seen an outpost of the store in the last few years. The company has been on a sharp decline from its heights at the top of the movie-rental business in the 1990s, when it had more than 9,000 stores globally. A year after Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in order to escape a $1 billion debt, DISH acquired its remaining 1,700 locations, only to close most of them in the last few years.

With Blockbuster's demise comes the end of an era, of sorts. The movie-rental outlet couldn't compete with the Netflix juggernaut and other streaming services, as technology has made its DVDs and VHS tapes obsolete. (And, even if you do still want a DVD, Netflix can probably deliver it to your door.) The days when you could spend an hour deciding between renting Arachnophobia for the 30th time or Jaws 3-D for the 40th time have long faded away, as has Blockbuster's movie-theater-style selection of overpriced confections and bags of Act II microwavable popcorn.

Those were happy days, surely. They were also days wracked with late fees and stress about incurring those late fees, desperate searches for missing cassettes on return day, and leering looks from the store's employees when you tried to deftly sneak a copy of, say, Emmanuelle in Space in between copies of Housesitter and Death Becomes Her.

Now, however, we have access to almost any kind of film we want. We have the long tail, which isn't limited by what the majority wants to watch. We have art-house films, foreign films, and short films that would have never seen the mainstream rental shelves in America. (Let's not even get started on how many small, independent rental stores were put out of business by Blockbuster's corporate steamrolling.) Blockbuster also had a long-standing policy of not carrying NC-17 films or many unrated films it felt might fall into that territory. Do we really need our viewing habits policed like that?

The relative amount of privacy afforded by streaming technology allows us to watch Wall-E back-to-back with Wild Things without having to answer to anyone but ourselves. That is a fine thing indeed.

As for the candy and popcorn? There's always Amazon. (CNN)