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9/10: Packaged Media's Forgotten Milestone

7 Sep, 2014 By: Erik Gruenwedel

The day before hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, Blockbuster Video Entertainment issued a press release that would forever change the home entertainment industry, yet was largely forgotten due to the unfolding terrorist attack.

The national video rental chain, which was then owned by Viacom, said it was accelerating plans to no longer carry VHS cassettes, and instead focus shelf space on the new DVD format.

“We undertook a number of key initiatives to strengthen our core business and drive growth in profitability, including re-merchandising our stores to expand our selection of higher-margin DVDs and dedicating more of our sales area to high-growth new [video] game formats and promising new business opportunities,” Blockbuster CEO John Antioco said in the release.

The National Geographic Channel Sept. 7 premiered two-hour documentary 9/10: The Final Hours, which showcased the Blockbuster news among other significant national events that took place the day before 9/11, and were ignored in less than 24 hours.

Final Hours showcases how lives were inextricably changed through seemingly unremarkable events and human interactions.

Indeed, Mark Green was considered the “can’t lose” Democratic mayoral candidate to replace Rudy Giuliani going into the primary election on Sept. 11. The doc interviews the Pizza Hut waitress who served terrorists Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari their last meal, as well as the US Airways customer representative who checks in Atta and Alomari for their ill-fated flight out of Boston.

There's also Howard Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, who drops his son off at his first day of kindergarten on 9/11 — a departure from his daily routine that saves his life. Cantor Fitzgerald would lose 658 employees on 9/11.

For Dallas-based Blockbuster, it had yet to reach its 2004 peak of 9,000 stores globally and 60,000 employees, but had begun stocking DVDs in 1999.

The DVD player, of course, would go on to become the most successful consumer electronics product launch in history, with DVD and content ownership turning the home video rental market into a veritable sellthrough cash cow to studios.

Blockbuster’s DVD announcement would also become a key point of contention in subsequent 2002 litigation filed against the chain, which alleged the rental giant overestimated disc margins, and that the format threatened to undermine the rental business in favor of the more-lucrative sellthrough business model.

The lawsuit was dismissed in 2004, and the upcoming 13th anniversary of 9/11 finds Blockbuster no longer in business, it’s brand now a shill for transactional VOD and digital sellthrough.

Meanwhile, doc 9/10: The Final Hours, bows at retail on DVD Oct. 8 for $19.95.



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