Last week’s news that Blockbuster Canada went into receivership, coming just six months after the parent company in the U.S. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, was a shock to few; really, the shock was that it took that long. Even while claiming the U.S. bankruptcy wasn’t going to hinder the video store chain’s “thriving” Canadian wing, most of us could see the warning signs.
Forget shock: Most of us simply don’t care. Anyone old enough to remember the bloodless coup that occurred when Blockbuster rolled into his neighborhood and forced the closure of Ray’s Video, Video Villa, or Five Star Video doesn’t have much sympathy for the mom-and-pop steamroller.
“Hail Netflix! Hail our new rulers!” we scream from our couches.
But when I read that Netflix’s arrival led to the closure of Bird Dog Video, one of Calgary’s coolest independent video stores and a long-time supporter of independent cinema culture in the city, I can’t help but question what is the end game?
With Bird Dog’s shuttering, I have vowed to support Casablanca Video, one of the last remaining bastions of indie video culture in Calgary (and I hope anyone reading this will do the same). The more I think about it, though, the more I’m having to admit that we won’t have bricks-and-mortar video stores in 10 years. Here’s why:
The technology is still changing
VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, DVD, HD DVD, Blu-ray, and new digital formats have all come and gone in just over 30 years. I’ve yet to meet someone touting the rich experience VHS gives the viewer over Blu-ray like the vinyl record crowd does for its medium. With movies, it’s all about the next more convenient technology for consumers, and this means that gathering and finding a physical copy of a film is already a nearly obsolete process.
The film geeks are online
Trying to find an obscure Takashi Miike film in Calgary can be a real crapshoot. “Fortunately,” some kid in Yokohama has packaged Miike’s entire filmography in one easy-to-download torrent file. With an endless amount of fan sites and blogs, obscure films that were once impossible to find can now be discussed and downloaded with one Hotfile link. When someone figures out how to make this communal effort a legal endeavour, the hipster chat we so relish at the indie video store will be a thing of the past.
The studios are bound to open their vaults
With the success of Netflix in Canada and the U.S. (note that the service’s movie selection is much better in the States), studios like Warner Bros. and Paramount would be foolish to not eventually offer a monthly subscription service to their vast catalogue of classic films. Whether it’s through Netflix or the studios’ own service, the option to view thousands of films that have never been transferred to Blu-ray or even DVD formats would keep classic cinema lovers planted on their couches.
Films are coming down in price
Even if Netflix or Zediva doesn’t kill the video rental store by driving the price of rentals down (Zediva will offer 10 new rentals, out the same day as retail, for 10 dollars) the purchase price of films dropping will ensure the assassination is complete. If the Amazon Kindle has taught us anything, switching a medium to digital keeps production costs minimal and will make $9.99 movies the norm. With the price of purchase and the price of rental being nearly the same, what reason would you have to visit your local video library?
The system still needs to work out the problem of data-capping for Netflix and other digital video services but, once that happens, the competition for cinema lovers’ home entertainment dollars will be fought online (and to a lesser extent at kiosks inside shopping malls and grocery stores).
So, sorry Casablance Video, you have my support. But any video store standing in any neighbourhood has a tough slug ahead and it’s not likely a battle that can be won. For my part, I’ll be stopping by as much to browse the selection as to say goodbye to yesterday.
Image courtesy of Elegant Machines.