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Rental Smackdown

3 Sep, 2013 By: Editorial Staff

Finding a Blockbuster becomes a game of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ as ‘Home Media Magazine’ editors hit the road seeking movie rental options

When Dish Network earlier this month said it would reduce Blockbuster’s evaporating nationwide footprint by 100 stores, it became even more clear that making it a “Blockbuster Night” is firmly going the way of VHS and pagers.

Founded in 1985, Blockbuster’s store count topped 9,000 locations globally in 2004 — about the time parent Viacom spun off the rental icon, saddling it with $1 billion in debt.

When Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy for the second time in 2011, the store count was down to about 1,500 in the United States. Dish acquired the chain at auction for its salvage value. Subsequent rounds of closure reduced the chain’s footprint further. The most recent announcement is expected to reduce the Blockbuster store count to 300 by the end of September.

Without a doubt, the continued closure of Blockbuster stores over the years has made it challenging for consumers to “Make it a Blockbuster Night.” Not only has it become increasingly difficult to find a Blockbuster nearby or on the way home from work, but also the cost of a nightly rental from Blockbuster remains comparatively high in relation to other sources such as Redbox’s ubiquitous kiosks.

Indeed, with roughly 36,000 Redbox kiosks nationwide, the ability to rent and return a disc for $1.20 per night ($1.50 for Blu-ray; $2 for games), consumers are now more likely to “Make it a Redbox Night,” according to Eric Wold, analyst with B. Riley & Co. in Los Angeles.

“Over the next few years, we continue to believe Redbox is primed to take an increasing share of the $5 billion that is still being spent [annually] by consumers on disc rentals,” Wold said.

Russ Crupnick, senior media analyst with The NPD Group, agreed it’s nearly impossible to remain loyal to Blockbuster considering myriad less-expensive alternatives.

“If you’re nostalgic for those days, you can always throw on the pajamas at 11:50 p.m., fire up the Kia and drive around the block a few times imagining you’re getting to the drop box before midnight,” Crupnick joked.

Undeterred, HMM staffers (sans PJs) explored the logistics of renting from Blockbuster in relation to Redbox and other sources. In doing so, they discovered that while the sun has set on the Blockbuster empire, there do exist rental options not necessarily the color of a fire truck.

Trading Places in Buford, Ga.

Armed with a list of new releases I wasn’t necessarily interested in (Barbie, Epic, anyone?), I instead searched for an indie film with name actors.

Lionsgate has been talking up drama Mud for end-of-the-year awards considerations, and with director Jeff Nichols previously scoring a hit with Take Shelter, I decided to check my local rental options.

Blockbuster had the Matthew McConaughey starrer in stock, but the nearest location was 21.5 miles away. I wasn’t about to relive Blockbuster nostalgia driving 80-plus miles to rent and return the DVD for $3.99 plus tax.

The Blockbuster site informed me I could rent Mud online and receive it within a day or so in the mail with no subscription required. The same option (but with a $7.99 monthly subscription) also existed with Netflix. The title is not available for streaming.

Fortunately, the dearth of Blockbuster stores has been filled by thousands of Redbox kiosks, including eight here in Buford, Ga. — the nearest one just 2.9 miles away — and boasting a copy of Mud.

Problem solved, right?

Not quite. Redbox may have eliminated the need for human interaction at retail, but that doesn’t mean they have necessarily improved the rental experience. My Sunday visit to Kroger’s found a huddle of consumers waiting their turn to peruse the lone kiosk.

Where was the next Redbox? I couldn’t remember. But another option existed — this one less than a mile away. Ingles supermarkets throughout the South feature standalone store-within-a-store video rentals with no membership required. The chain had lowered the Blu-ray Disc daily rental price to DVD: $1.29. Ingles had Mud on DVD and not one other customer when I visited. In fact, I walked the aisles undisturbed while a clerk sat mesmerized watching a movie on an overhead analog TV monitor.

Problem now solved? Maybe.

A final option involved a MovieStop store located about two miles away near the Mall of Georgia. The place doesn’t rent movies. But it does buy, sell and trade them. This business model — borrowed from former parent GameStop — is akin to renting, if you know something about street dates and resale values.

For example: MovieStop had Mud on DVD with digital copy for $15.96. A used Blu-ray combo pack was available for $24.96. The clerk told me the trade-in value for Mud was $10, which meant I could buy the DVD, watch it, and sell it back for $10 while keeping the digital copy. My total cost: $5.96.

That’s because MovieStop is only interested in the physical disc and willing to pay as much as $12 for used copies, depending on the title and its proximity to street date, according to the clerk. The trade-in value can change as quickly as a public stock’s valuation.

The chain will also give you a new Blu-ray release of your choice when trading in two used BD movies.


I got Mud on BD for two used BD titles I already had. After I watch it, I will return it for $10 (maybe less) cash back (60% more in trade-in) while keeping the UltraViolet code in perpetuity.

— Erik Gruenwedel

Block-Bewildered in Los Angeles, CA

For me, visiting Redbox vs. Blockbuster is the difference between walking 185 steps vs. driving more than two miles. It’s also the difference between convenience vs. selection and simplicity vs. chaos.

The nearest Redbox is catty-corner from my house on Burbank Boulevard in North Hollywood, at the 7-Eleven near the I-170 exit.

Nearly every time I walk or drive by, there’s someone there. During my visit for this story I waited behind two people, both returning discs on a Tuesday night. When it was my turn, I found all of Redbox’s suggested “Top 10” in stock (a mix of movies and games). Redbox prominently advertised Angry Birds Trilogy for the Wii, Trance on Blu-ray and Scary Movie V, also all in stock.

Name a new release (factoring in embargoes), and it was available: Olympus Has Fallen from Sony Pictures, Scary Movie V from Anchor Bay, Bullet to the Head from Warner (following the studio’s 28-day embargo).

If there are complaints to be made about my nearest Redbox (or any Redbox) it is the lack of deep catalog. The machine can only hold so much, and that’s something you just need to accept. One other minor issue is that a majority of top new game releases are often out of stock (no BioShock Infinite for the PlayStation 3, no The Walking Dead for the Xbox 360, etc.).

Otherwise, visiting my local Redbox is always a pleasure: $1.20 a night, every night; they almost always have the new DVD I want to watch; and its proximity to the North Hollywood Police Station means no-hassle renting late at night.

Conversely, the nearest Blockbuster from my home is 2.3 miles away in Sherman Oaks, Calif. … but who wants to deal with crossing 101 traffic during commute hours? Visiting a Blockbuster is torture enough already.

Instead, I head to the Blockbuster an extra half a mile away, at Burbank Boulevard and Buena Vista Street in Burbank, Calif. The first thing I notice is how many Redbox kiosks I pass on the drive (four), all at 7-Elevens. Heck, one 7-Eleven has two of them.

To be honest, every time I’ve passed this Blockbuster, I thought it was one of the thousands that have been shuttered, what with no cars in the parking lot and zero movie advertisements in the window. But no, this is one of the 300 or so Blockbusters still open for business, and today there ARE cars in the lot and actual customers coming in and out.

Blockbuster has one thing over Redbox: selection. You name it, and they’ve got it. Every new release is available here, along with nearly every disc release you can think of.

It’s a glorious thing to see thousands upon thousands of DVDs, Blu-rays and games in one room. But along with that selection comes chaos: five-day rentals for 99 cents, $3.99, maybe $5.99. Seven-day rentals for $3.99. Go for broke: $10 for some combination of popcorn, soda and a DVD for five days. Or is it seven? Buy-one-get-one-free DVDs over here; previously rented games for sale over there. Which ones are for rent? Which ones are for sale? Ask the clerk. He may or may not know.

Redbox is easy and simple. Blockbuster can be confusing and cruel.

There are good things here at Blockbuster: I almost bought a framed poster of The Blues Brothers for $30. And, most importantly, not a single new-release rental was out of stock.
But unless I’m really hard-up for a new-release title that Redbox can’t offer (whether it’s out of stock or under embargo) my local Blockbuster doesn’t offer a compelling answer to my most important question: Why bother?

— Chris Tribbey

On the Way in Long Beach, CA

The nearest Redbox kiosk is 0.4 miles away inside of a Ralph’s grocery store — a convenient location for me as I sometimes shop there. It also is next door to my local drugstore and bank.

The Ralph’s holds two kiosks, both of which were occupied upon arrival, with another person waiting in line to drop off his disc.

The new releases available were Paramount’s Pain & Gain, Sony Pictures’ At Any Price, Image’s Stranded and Universal’s Barbie Mariposa & the Fairy Princess. Also available were video games, but I couldn’t tell you if any were good or bad because I’m not a gamer.

I perused the nearby produce section and picked up some nice-looking nectarines and some bananas, while keeping an eye on the two kiosks. A lady and presumably her son stopped by to check out the kiosk, but they didn’t rent anything.

Within a 4.1-mile radius, Redbox lists 37 locations near my home — five of those are within only a mile away. Fourteen of those locations have two kiosks, and many are indoors and located near convenient grocery stores and 7-Eleven stores.

I personally prefer to visit the indoor ones if it’s at night and I’m alone, but it’s nice to have the option to hit up one of those outdoor kiosks. Reserving online would also expedite the process and assure the disc is still there when I arrive. It seems the one I visited probably gets a lot of traffic, especially on the weekends, I would surmise.

Meanwhile, the nearest Blockbuster is in Los Alamitos, Calif., six miles away, and includes getting on the freeway. Or I could take the 5.5-mile route and avoid the freeway, but that would require a minimum 15-minute drive or more, depending on traffic — not convenient at all.

— Angelique Flores

A Good Walk in Long Beach, CA

After a swift three-minute walk from my apartment to Vons, I found myself in front of two shiny Redbox kiosks.

Upon perusing Kiosk A, I was happy to see that Paramount’s Pain & Gain, which streeted that day (Aug. 27), was in stock in both Blu-ray and DVD. Sony Pictures’ At Any Price and the direct-to-DVD Barbie feature Barbie Mariposa & the Fairy Princess, distributed by Universal, also were available.

On the other hand, new release The Great Gatsby was unavailable, due to its 28-day holdback from Warner. It was listed under the “Coming Soon” section with a date of Sept. 24.

Also absent were Disney’s Super Buddies, Anchor Bay’s Kon-Tiki, Well Go USA’s A Company Man, Image’s Stranded, Zeitgeist’s Koch and New Video’s The Painting. None appeared in the “Coming Soon” section, either.

There was relatively no foot traffic at the Redbox (it was a Tuesday afternoon), save for one older gentleman returning his rental at Kiosk B and quickly leaving.

Visiting a Blockbuster would have been a much more cumbersome ordeal, as the locations nearest to me were in Los Alamitos, Calif., (about 8 miles) and Carson, Calif., (about 10). The two Blockbusters in my area (on Long Beach Boulevard at 10th Street, and on Ximeno Avenue at Anaheim Street) closed long ago.

Ironically, a Google search determined that there was a Blockbuster Express kiosk located in the almost exact location of the previous brick-and-mortar store on Long Beach Boulevard, presumably in the 7-Eleven just a few yards away.

— Ashley Ratcliff

Blockbuster-Adjacent in Costa Mesa, CA

I found a Blockbuster in Costa Mesa about three miles from me, about a mile away from a Target where I usually shop. Halfway between that Blockbuster and my apartment is a Stater Bros. with a Redbox kiosk. When I stopped by sometime between 9 and 10 p.m., I didn’t see anyone visiting the Redbox machine.

The Redbox I usually see more often is at the newish Walmart on Von Karmen in Irvine, about five miles away. I usually wouldn’t go to Walmart except to check out their stock of new releases for our weekly merchandising section, but last week I kept an eye on the single Redbox kiosk while I was there. I didn’t see anyone use it. I do notice sometimes the machine advertises specials on some titles that give a coupon to purchase the title at the store.

Observing the Blockbuster, there were about a half-dozen people there at any one time. The advantage Blockbuster had over Redbox for them was the deeper catalog selection, and catching up on earlier movies in a franchise when the sequels were coming out. One father wanted to grab the original Red Dawn to show his son. Most people who went in alone quickly grabbed the movie they wanted and left.

The store also had a robust section for TV shows on disc, though I never saw anyone near that section.

Having not been to a Blockbuster in years, the ambiance and decor was clearly different from what I remember. The store was wide open, with maybe only half the floor space actually devoted to shelves, and everything was spaced out. The new releases lined the walls across the store, although “new release” seemed to be defined as anything released since the beginning of 2012. There was a clearly marked space for catalog, and another smaller area for video games. A walled-off section was marked for kids’ movies. And there were tables for used movies set up everywhere. Blu-rays and DVDs were intermingled.

I sensed the store was aiming to establish a sense of identity as a movie-fan’s destination. Several monitors along the walls showed different movies, with a large couch for people to rest up while watching. Several shelves were devoted to entertainment-based merchandise, with several displays of framed movie and TV show posters.

Blockbuster pricing was confusing. Several signs outside the store touted five-day rentals for 99 cents, without really making it clear which movies (the 99 cents applied to catalog movies). The so-called new releases were $3.99 for five days, and the newest releases, those that just came out, were $3.99 for one night. A “Triple Feature Bundle” promotion promised three movies, soda, popcorn and candy for $9.99. There were also flyers for a rent-three-movies-or-games-and-get-one-free-deal, and another offering free rentals with an Entertainment Weekly subscription.

One endcap display promoted a tie-in with Major League Baseball — rent three movies or games priced $2.99 or less (which points to the catalog titles or games) and get a free MLB koozie foam bottle holder. The display was fully stocked and even had booklets containing the 2013 MLB schedules for each team, curious since there’s only a month left to the season.

The clerks didn’t seem thrilled to be there. One went on break, grabbed a sandwich and beelined to the break room as if she couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

— John Latchem

Freeway-Phobic in Lake Forest, CA

I have a Redbox about a third of a mile away at the local Stater Bros. grocery store.

In the 15 minutes I observed the two kiosks there were six groups of customers. There was a seventh family that stopped, with the kids pointed longingly at a few offerings on the display. Paramount’s Pain & Gain, Sony’s At Any Price and Universal’s Barbie Mariposa & the Fairy Princess were among the new releases. Disney’s Super Buddies or what was perhaps the most anticipated release of the week, The Great Gatsby, weren’t available.

And this isn’t the only Redbox location within what some might call spittin’ distance. There are four other Redbox locations less than a 10-minute drive from my house.

When we first moved into the neighborhood 15 years ago, locations for both Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video (coincidentally next to the Stater Bros. with Redbox) were within a one-mile radius. As for the current Blockbuster options, the closest locations are at least 10 miles in either direction, both requiring me to get on a freeway to reach them. Each trip would take at least 30 minutes drive time. I don’t get on the freeway for movie rentals. I’ve got water polo, swim and tennis practices to which I shuttle kids back and forth. If it’s not on my way, forget it.

— Stephanie Prange

About the Author: Editorial Staff

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