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Another Change of Habit

15 Jul, 2009 By: Stephanie Prange

A longtime veteran of the business — who has seen it go from a rental to a mostly sellthrough market, and from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray — recently remarked “Can you believe how much has changed since last year?”

For an industry accustomed to periodic and sweeping shifts of distribution and format, the about-face we’ve experienced in recent months is still remarkably jarring.

It took some time for VHS to succumb to disc, for the consumer rental habit to shift to collecting movies, and for the high-definition format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc to resolve itself. The change in consumer habit from buying ever more discs (and indeed video games, see cover story) is happening very quickly. Indeed, consumers have tightened their purse strings as never before, opting to rent more instead of buy, as evidenced by the exploding Netflix and kiosk businesses.

Still, I think we will weather this newest storm.

The industry faced many previous challenges and came out stronger. What has always remained constant is consumers’ love of watching movies in the home, and I don’t see that changing. I just see a change of habit.

It was not entirely unpredictable. Once you’ve bought all the classics on DVD, you aren’t as likely to buy them again anytime soon. With the vaults mostly mined, the studios will have to depend on the relatively young Blu-ray format to convince consumers to replace their collections. That will take time.

Another advantage DVD had is that it opened up for the first time the opportunity to conveniently collect television seasons. That gave the whole business a one-time content boost that cannot be repeated.

Still, aside from these changes, the business continues to serve the consumer need to collect movies and TV shows they love and, on Blu-ray, buy the highest-quality copy of their favorite content. No other business serves that need as well.

While times are tough, consumers likely will continue to rent some films in the interest of saving money. Perhaps the studios can find a way to get a bigger piece of the rental pie, allowing them to continue to finance the big-budget films we love. Home entertainment has a history of change, and I think the business is up for the challenge.

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