by Paul Deeter
The recent release The Last Blockbuster is a rewarding nostalgia trip for rental addicts, while simultaneously approaching one main question: what's the future of home rental? Well the movie, as fun as it is, does not dive too deep into the transitions that come with physical media to digital content. Instead it tries to use levity and some fun cameos to share wisdom to younger audiences of just how easy we have it now. I myself having grown up as a kid to the Blockbuster craze have my own fair share of memories wandering the halls of rental after rental, until it's unfortunate and quite clear end of the line. Netflix is easy to point fingers at, even with the irony that the platform released The Last Blockbuster for streaming. It's easy to pinpoint Netflix without knowing that Blockbuster had some early offers from competitors for streaming and mailing options. We oft look past some of the price-gouging that came with rentals from Blockbuster too. So Netflix is now basically the king of streaming content. Recent award seasons have show that Netflix, followed by Amazon (closely) is even leading the game in delivering big-screen Oscar caliber releases. What's better than being able to see The Irishman at the theater at the same time as Netflix drops it? Just recently, the numbers are showing that Zack Snyder's Army of the Dead may be the most successful release for Netflix ever. You can practically hear the cash registers closing and opening.
It's interesting to see this rise and rise while forgetting there was another quiet competitor to Blockbuster that actually peaked itself in the early 00's while Netflix was still revving its engines: Redbox. This rental service may be the last icon of true physical rental, outside of Netflix's age-old disc rental option that made it famous in the late 90s. Netflix made disc-rental popular, but it had its caveats before it was truly famed for its streaming content. Redbox meanwhile, had answers. Netflix had the option for renting anywhere between 1-7 discs simultaneously. Basically how it worked was the rental site offered almost unlimited titles of new releases to old-but-gold classics. Here's a site that might prevent a walk into a Blockbuster, because there's no guarantee Blockbuster always has what you're looking for. The caveat was Netflix had limited availability to the amount of copies available per film, and upon release you might be queued a month or two to get a copy of Tenet upon disc-release. Additionally, you have to trade in your movies to get new ones, which made you rely on "snail-mail" and the idea that sometimes the time between sending your movie back to get the replacement could be unbearable. Here's Redbox: pick your rental, anytime. Pick how long you rent it. There are no monthly fees, you walk up to basically a movie ATM for lack of a better term. You rent the newest films (no mail wait-time) and return it when you're done. But get this, you can return these movies to any Redbox.
How baffling it was to me, around high-school age that I could go to one of my best friend's house and on the way over I could pick out a movie or two for a few bucks at any en route Redbox. Sure, you need a credit card, but even Blockbuster had changed to keep tabs on rentals as well. Redbox was everywhere. In fact:
The company surpassed Blockbuster in 2007 in number of U.S. locations, passed 100 million rentals in February 2008, and passed 1 billion rentals in September 2010. Current and former competitors include Netflix, Blockbuster, Movie Gallery and its subsidiary Hollywood Video, West Coast Video and Family Video along with other DVD by mail rental services.
This was when I was in highschool. In 2007 and on for a solid few years, Blockbuster was sweating not just to the early 00's Netflix presence and the idea of early retirement from them, but to these small red-vending machines. There's so much to digest, and it comes down to the simplicity of this LA born idea. Small rectangular vendors with no human labor required. Simple use, big buttons. Access to DVD, Blu-Ray and even videogames (until just recently). The ability to order movies to any Redbox online before driving up to one was another killer feature I often used. There was even a time... growing concern in 2009 that DVD kiosks might jeopardize movie studio income from DVD sales and rentals, [and] three major movie studios, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., and Universal Studios, separately refused to sell DVDs to Redbox until at least 28 days after their arrival in sto