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Prediction Affliction

5 Jan, 2004 By: Stephanie Prange

I've taken some heat for last month's prediction that rentals will drop off in 2004 as sellthrough begins to impact the market. I've made the point in this space before that rentals compete for consumers' time. There are only 24 hours in a day. Consumers are buying more and more DVDs — for gifts and for themselves — and it looks as if they are renting less, according to the big rental chain's reports.

It's not just that consumers may be buying titles instead of renting them. That's not the whole picture. There are more viewing opportunities in the home, many directly resulting from the growing sellthrough DVD market. Consumers can watch DVDs they already own again, those they borrow from neighbors or the hours of extras on those DVDs. Just think about the hours of free time a TV series on DVD can swallow. A rental isn't just competing for viewers' time with a single sellthrough title viewing, pay-per-view or video-on-demand, it competes with all the other entertainment pastimes viewers can pursue to fill up that 24-hour day, including added viewing of DVDs they or their neighbors already own.

In my own neighborhood, kids move from house to house watching DVDs in each other's libraries. I don't know how many times my daughter saw Pirates of the Caribbean over the holidays, but it wasn't our copy she was always watching. My neighbor came to a gathering humming “Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming…” from Finding Nemo because it was running in a continuous loop at his house.

I know this has been a phenomenon with kids for some time, but it happens among the adults in the neighborhood, too.

Now, this doesn't mean the death knell for rentailers. They can join the sellthrough juggernaut, too — and they have through sales of previously viewed DVDs. One retailer wrote me that pre-viewed title sales have more than made up for any drop-off in rentals at independent video rentailers — and that market, like rentals, is uniquely theirs.

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