Is The DVD Rental Shop Dead?

At 8:30pm on Saturday 30 August 2008, the fat lady sung for DVD shops. In a not-exactly under-populated part of South London, we were on the prowl for a rental copy of the original The Day The Earth Stood Still.

First and obvious port of call was the local DVD rental store. Yet, after a quick scour, there was no sign of the well-known 1951 sci-fi classic.

So to the chap behind the counter... He hadn’t heard of it.

Back at home, after a quick scour on iTunes, we very quickly found The Day The Earth Stood Still available for rental for £2.49 complete with snappy recap of plot and loads of other recommendations.

Simple. Click of a button, quick broadband download, comfortable watch... So where did it all go so wrong for the humble video/DVD shop?

Back in the ’80s, Quentin Tarantino goofed off behind the counter at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach. He knew his shit. He passed it onto his customers.

But today's movie geeks are more likely to have a broadband connection and an unlimited subscription plan with LoveFilm.

“The first problem was pirated DVDs at car boot sales,” reckons Michael at Prime Time Video in South London. “Then came downloads and all-you-can-watch rentals. Prime Time Video used to have eight stores in London but now we’re the last one.”

His store’s punters are mainly teens after “the Clerks factor” and middle-aged, technophobe film fans who appreciate the shop’s bespoke service. “It’s not unusual to spend an hour with someone helping them find a film they want to watch.

“We’re old school. We haven’t got a website, we don’t take credit cards and we haven’t got Blu-ray yet. We’ve only just got rid of our VHS tapes!”

It’s not just indie outlets that are suffering. Even Blockbuster’s hangar-sized superstores aren’t insulated from the online revolution. Their website offers door-to-door delivery and their US counterpoint has already leapt onto the rental-and-buy download bandwagon.

“There’s been a quantum shift in the rental market in the last four years,” claims Simon Morris, Marketing Director of LoveFilm.

“The old model was screaming out to be changed and the three key words we hear from customers are range, convenience and price.”

So is the video shop really as dead as Betamax, tracking controls and the blurry pause function?

“It’s not for me to dance on their grave,” says Morris, simultaneously sounding diplomatic and as if he’s in the process of tying up his tap shoes.

He then points out that total online rentals overtook offline rentals last year for the first time ever. There’s writing on the video shop wall and it reads: RIP.


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