A Blockbuster of a Perception Problem14 Jul, 2009 By: Thomas K. Arnold
I read with interest our report on the see-saw share prices of Netlix and Blockbuster (see Erik Gruenwedel's story by clicking here). Netflix share prices see-SOARED to a three-month high on speculation that the aggressive online DVD rental pioneer may be acquired by Amazon. Blockbuster shares, meanwhile, took a dive to close yesterday at 58 cents, down 82% from a 52-week high of $3.19 per share Aug. 6, 2008. Heck, I remember when Blockbuster shares were trading at well over $15 per share--and thinking, "Man, that's bad--they sure took a hit since they started trading at $25 a share." I checked around the Web a little and found this little ditty from Smart Money, dated May 2005: "Low expectations have already taken their toll on Blockbuster's share price. The stock has bounced around a much-diminished ranged of highs and lows this year, ending 2004 at $9.54 a share, dropping below $9 for parts of March and April, and hitting a recent low of $8.45 a share on March 30. That's about half of the stock's 52-week high of $16.41 touched precisely 52 weeks ago." Boy, what Jim wouldn't give to be at $9, eh?
The sad thing is that Blockbuster's low value in the eyes of the investment community has everything to do with the perception that video rental, at least the traditional store-based model, is a relic and anyone associated with it isn't worth beans. Investors are keen on Netflix, mostly because of the company's history of strategic thinking, smart forecasting and willingness to talk about what's going to happen next (streaming). They also like Redbox because, well, those dollar kiosks are making a heck of a lot of money, and everyone's reading the reports that in this troubled economy people are looking for bargains and what's a better deal than a buck a night for a hot new movie?
And yet I can't help but wonder, if Netflix and Redbox had both emanated from a brick-and-mortar rental-store operation like Blockbuster, would they be the darlings that they are? Or would investors thumb their noses at them the way they do at Blockbuster, and accuse them of desperate tactics to remain afloat?
Everytime Netflix or Redbox make a move, investors applaud. Everytime Blockbuster makes a move--even if it's the same moves Netflix or Redbox have made, like offering subscription rentals or launching a fleet of kiosks--it gets lambasted as a dinosaur that doesn't know when it's time to sink back into its mudhole and let nature take its course.
Shaking a bad reputation can be a real bitch--even when that reputation isn't deserved.