Thursday, October 7, 2010

shameless promotion (2.0), part xiii

My apologies for taking so long to post this edition of my column from the St. Clair Times. Like you cared.
Rental stores becoming thing of the past

An underrated sign of the times: Local video rental stores are quietly shutting their doors forever.

It’s true. Blockbuster Video, the standard bearer for video rentals since I was little, recently filed for bankruptcy, owing to a debt service of more than $1 billion and no improvements in sight. In the area surrounding my house, the only video rental place that now exists is a single box in a pharmacy parking lot.

Maybe you haven’t noticed. Wait, you definitely haven’t noticed, since you probably aren’t going to these places.

Much like landline telephones and U.S. mail, video rental has been rendered largely obsolete by the advances of modern technology. There just isn’t much of a market for it anymore.

(Note: You wanted me to say “and newspapers” in that sentence, I know. I’m in denial. Just humor me.)

Too many outlets now exist for those in the mood for a video rental. Nearly every service that provides any level of television — cable or satellite — has an “On Demand” button that allows customers to order movies without ever having to dress or even stand up. For those who prefer to rent movies and watch them over the Web, there’s Netflix, which allows people like my brother to order films in which there’s very little action and people speak Afghani for 120 minutes.

And, if you just have to leave the house, there’s the aforementioned box: Redbox, a sort of video-rental vending machine. Rare is the occasion when I walk by the Redbox and don’t see a line of people waiting.

There’s another bit of social phenomena at work here as well, and we might as well call it “The Laziness Theory” because I can’t think of a better name for it. Because of the proliferation of cable channels and various cable “packages,” a movie freak can actually stay home and watch a hundred different movie channels — 14 different versions of HBO, Showtime, Stars, Cinemax and so forth — that there may be no need to order movies at all.

Heck, with cable channels like AMC, FX and USA, even special channels may not be necessary — just stay home and wait a few months, and you might be able to see “Spider Man 3” without paying anything extra. Why go to the trouble of going to the video store and having to fight off the urge to strangle the person who rented the last copy of “Slumdog Millionaire” when all those options are already available?

In time, the video-store trip will become a bit of nostalgia for people of a certain age, like drive-in movie theaters or malt shops. Many of the memories will revolve around the employees — usually bored-looking kids who had an encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary cinema and sneered at you for renting a popular film like “Jurassic Park” (“the book’s way better, man”) over something more chic like “Noises Off” or “Clerks.”

Not sure what happens to those kids now. My “On-Demand” button has no such judgment.

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