Tonight I swung by Blockbuster with my friend Eric so he could rent a movie, and it instantly became one of the most annoying errands ever.
First off, the line to get out was insanity itself. Each and every person had to be interrogated and the process involved much typing on a keyboard. All sorts of ideas ran through my head of how the rental process could be streamlined – many of them using ancient techology – what’s the point of having bar codes on cards and DVDs if they are rendered pointless by a long, involved payment scheme? Why doesn’t Blockbuster do what Mobil Speedpass and Amazon.com do – keep an account, which automatically debits?
Then I realized that what they need is RFID – each DVD should have a RF tag, and your rental card should also have one. Then, all you need to do is select a film and walk out – the RFIDs are read as you walk out, and your account charged. Simple. And if you’re worried about the information privacy implications of this, I ask – what the hell is different from what happens now? They know exactly what you rent as it is, where’s the difference?
Eric’s account was on hold because he had a movie late. He was interrogated about it and treated like a criminal, and – like in many customer service situations – the computer wouldn’t allow the clerk to proceed. Computers, of course, are in charge. He paid a late fee. I was immediately incensed – he could have gone to the public library and borrowed a DVD (for free) and paid less of a late fee. And the library, you get the movie for a week or two.
Why in the world does Blockbuster do this? Eric insisted it was because they were losing potential rental revenue while it was off the shelf. Bull. It’s off the shelf BECAUSE someone rented it! Being owned by movie studios, Blockbuster hardly pays retail price for a DVD. If they rent it twice, they’ve more than paid for it. Everything else is gravy.
So why, if a movie is still checked out, doesn’t Blockbuster simply charge for another rental period rather than bring down the wrath onto it’s customers?
The whole thing is so stupid and unwieldy, that it’s no wonder that Netflix is a growing phenomenon. I just wish that studios would wise up and realize that despite their horror at the mere possibility of piracy (there’s always been piracy, and yet movies today are making bigger profits than ever), they could make huge profits by providing on-demand access to content via broadband. Imagine never having to go deal with surly clerks and long lines at the video rental place – just place an order online and the movie would be delivered to your TiVo overnight. For $4.99 you could watch it as many times as you want in 5 days, then it’s deleted. Right now, a $4.99 rental at Blockbuster includes the overhead of mastering and pressing the disc, the packing and shipping, the case and booklet, the clerks and store…. but if the film is a digital file, the overhead is minimal. Their profit would be enormous.
But, someone might copy it. Just like they’ve been doing since the advent of the VCR.
By the way, the VCR was the savior of the American movie industry – because the studios put movies on copyable tapes.