Positive Cynicism – The announcement that launched a thousand torrents

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

Redbox is the best thing to happen to DVD rentals since Netflix.

Have you seen Redbox? They’ve got 17,000 kiosks across the country outside of grocery stores or in McDonald’s. You simply go to it, put in your credit card, it vends you a DVD and you get to keep it for a dollar a day. It’s a fantastic way to get new releases when your Netflix queue is backed up. Especially if you, like I, want to rent them before everyone else has a chance to scratch them up.

(Seriously, people, why haven’t you figured out not to touch the silver side yet?)

Redbox celebrated its half-billionth rental this weekend. They’re doing a hell of a business. It’s a simple service and, unlike many services in America, it works the way it’s supposed to.

Enter the movie studios to fuck everything up.

Warner Home Video has announced that it is changing its terms with both Redbox and Netflix. In a rather desperate attempt to force sales out of a waning home video market, they’re not going to give up their precious new releases until 28 days after they’re released. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has also decided to make it a 30 day delay.

Netflix sure ain’t happy. Neither is Redbox; they’re actually suing Fox already, and they sued Universal last year for making a decision to hold off on the rental market for 45 days.

The question must be asked: What the hell, man?

Well, here’s the answer.

When DVD emerged back in the nineties, the aim of the technology was to replace the VHS market. People scoffed at the idea, but it obliterated VHS pretty quickly. Ironically, the first major studio to really plunge themselves into the DVD market was Warner Bros, and their Warner Home Video arm released a number of discs at a cheap price to test the waters.

But because the studios were to slow to take the fullest advantage of DVDs, the discs were put on rental shelves immediately as they became available. In the VHS world, the studios had insisted on a retail window of about a month, offering videos for sale before they became available for rental in order to make an initial profit. It’s never been that way with DVDs, and the studios have regretted it ever since, trying to force a retail window on the now well-established DVD market in the name of profits.

So the answer here is money. It’s always money. And they are a business, I respect that. But their mistake is not just in assuming that consumers will just accept it – always the mistake of business – but in assuming that the kiosks will just sit still for it.

Redbox president Mitch Lowe gets right to the heart of the matter when he says that Warner Bros has decided to “take action to limit our consumers’ timely access to new release DVDs.”

I’ve said this before: the entertainment industry cannot accept the idea that when you buy something, you own it. So they try to control your access as much as they can to squeeze the most money possible out of your wallet. And that’s all this is. Warner, Fox, Universal … they’re trying to force you to go out and buy their product, a product that isn’t always worth buying, and which they’ve steadily raised the prices on over the last decade. That’s always the issue with the studios. They don’t care about the quality of their product; they just want to trick, coerce and sue you into paying for it.

I think it’s hilarious that the studios – and Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes, who really thinks this is going to be the newest savior of his rental chain, which is dying the longest, slowest heat-death I’ve ever seen – think this is going to work. What they’re essentially asking for is a reversal of progress in a well-established and very popular business model. They’re actually hurting their businesses more than they realize, because they’ve failed to take several things into account.

First, that Redbox and the other major kiosk companies, NCR and DVDPlay, are going to just accept things they way they are. They have yet to keep any movie out of a kiosk, and my own suspicion is that they just buy the discs and put them in the kiosks for rental.

Second, that Netflix is going to roll over, too. I once got a “Blockbuster Exclusive” copy of Rob Zombie’s Halloween through Netflix the same weekend it was released. And bless Netflix for doing right by their customers.

Third, that simply going against what consumers have clearly chosen is the way to win customer loyalty, especially when they’re nakedly attempting to force the customer to pay more than they already do and interfering with customer convenience. This certainly isn’t building a better mousetrap. This is forcing the consumer to buy the mouse before they even need the trap.

And fourth, that they can compete with the Internet.

That was the first thing I thought when I read about this: the studios have just made a decision to boost the popularity of Internet “piracy.” What they’ve never accepted is that all, all, ALL Internet “piracy” originates with the studios. Someone who works there puts it online or gives it to someone else who puts it online. How do you think such clear copies become available weeks early? And with the theater-to-DVD window getting smaller and smaller (sometimes it seems like just 2 or 3 months), those torrents are popping up well before they pop up in a kiosk or a rental shelf. So now that the studios have decided to wait even longer to get new releases to the enormous portion of the population that can’t afford to buy tons of DVDs and would rather rent conveniently at the grocery store or through the mail, it just makes alternate means that much more attractive for a larger number.

And let’s face it, Hollywood has never really figured out how to stop them.

Now, let’s be clear here. I’m not advocating theft. I prefer to either go to a movie or, since money is scarce, get it through Netflix or Redbox. But I’m also a realist. And I certainly don’t expect, as the studios seem to, that everyone is just going to wait the extra 30 to 45 days to rent a movie when they can just click on a torrent and download it.

But what do I know? I’m on the consumer side of things and all I can see is studios trying to interfere with my being able to conveniently view their product.

It takes a special kind of fancy business education to know that making things less affordable, less convenient and less available to consumers during a recession is the key to making a profit.

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

  1. David Griner August 18, 2009
  2. Joel Murphy August 18, 2009
  3. Interactive Habitat August 18, 2009
  4. Aaron R. Davis August 19, 2009

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