Monday, May 16, 2011

Little box vs. BIG BOX (Videos)

Several weeks ago we went to our favorite video rental store, Video Vision in the Mt. Royal complex of shops in Duluth.  We don't rent movies often, maybe twice a month on average.  Even then, we weren't big spenders, as seniors we paid $1.08 for videos not considered New Release.

As we entered, we noticed a sign that the store would be closing in about two weeks.  The sign referred customers to its other two stores that our outside our normal errands.  I should mention that the now closed store was in walking distance for us.

This store was tucked behind a coffee shop and not easily seen from the street.  It had a reasonable selection but was becoming eclipsed by two other competitors.  One of course is Netflix, which many people find very convenient.  The other is Red Box, which has a limited selection but is in high traffic areas.  The nearest Red Box is at Mt. Royal Fine Foods, a supermarket that probably has more traffic in an hour than the video store had all week.  Of course, not every supermarket customer is looking for a video, but I've seen many people standing in line with one.

The nearest video store to us now is a small shop that is for sale.  We haven't visited it in years because of its small selection and at that time, nearly no DVDs.  The next is Mr. Movies in the Plaza shopping center.  It does have a large selection, including many foreign movies.  But it is out of our normal shopping routes.

I couldn't tell you where the big video chains are without checking the phone book.  We may be skipping the big boxes for videos completely and going "out of the box".

With a nominal 7Mbps internet speed, we can access movies online.  It has some drawbacks, but we don't have to leave home to access a movie.  Both Google's YouTube and Apple offer recent releases at $3.99.  The customer has 30 days to access the movie and once viewed, 24 hours to complete viewing.  Viewing includes backing up to see parts again.

We gave "The King's Speech" from YouTube a try.  I ordered if from my laptop for delayed viewing and then we watched it several days later by streaming it on my wife's iMac.  Even with the supposed high-speed internet, we had little, minor, annoying discontinuities.

If I remember correctly, YouTube only offers streaming.  We could never watch a movie this way at our cabin with dial-up at 24kbps.  At this speed, it takes five minutes to load the main page of many online newspapers.  It would probably take most of the evening to get through the initial credits.

I checked Apple's iTunes store and they have the same deal for recent movies, but one can choose between streaming and downloading.  Since I already "blew" my movie "budget" for the month with "The King's Speech", I chose "All the Pretty Horses" at 99 cents.  I downloaded it for later viewing, but it took over two hours.  I have yet to watch it but plan to do so later in the week.  We'll see if it offers smoother viewing.

Wow, how movie viewing has changed in my lifetime!  Neighborhood theaters at 10 cents for kids with a newsreel, a short, a cartoon, and one or two features.  Were they ever crowded on Saturday afternoons.  Downtown theaters with first-run movies.  Drive-ins.  The suburban multiplexes, making money with many of the seats empty.  Then VHS for home viewing.  Then DVD for home viewing.  (Oops, I forgot cable because we never had it.)  Stores cropped up in malls and neighborhoods to rent them.  Each type of the movie theater has all but disappeared.  The video stores are disappearing.

I wonder if anyone has done an analysis at the number of jobs "lost" as the tastes and technology changed.

Now we'll have less than a dozen companies offering movies for on-demand viewing, each with its huge banks of servers holding thousands and thousands of movies.  It wouldn't surprise me if many movie producers had no hard copy of their work.  From camera to computer to editors to computer to the online retailers computers.  What meaning will "roll", "cut", and "in the can" have anymore?