Friday, September 21, 2012

Now lying at Blockbuster

I got an email just now from Blockbuster, a residual effect of having been a former subscriber to their DVD-through-the-mail service. (Which I actually really liked, and only abandoned so my wife and I could consolidate to one account -- her Netflix account. Oh, and because Blockbuster is going out of business.)

I get an email from them maybe once a week, but the subject of this one caught my attention:

"Now Showing at Blockbuster: Cabin in the Woods & End of Watch."

And I thought to myself, "Isn't End of Watch that movie whose trailer I just saw on Monday, that's coming out this Friday? You know, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena?"

Yep, that End of Watch.

Now, I know Blockbuster has, in the past, boasted exclusives -- movies (usually movies you've never heard of, with B-list stars) that can only be rented from Blockbuster for some finite window of time. But these movies have been of the straight-to-video variety. Certainly not theatrical releases, and certainly not theatrical releases that have not even been theatrically released yet.

So I dug into the email. The first section was about Cabin in the Woods. Then came a section of featured moves, flanked by a section of featured games. Then a bit about saving 50% off all previously viewed movies. Then an advertisement for EA Sports' FIFA 13 video game. Then a section about getting recommendations from Blockbuster's "real-life movie experts."

And then finally a bit that says "End of Watch, in theaters September 21." And next to that: "Bring Jake Home Tonight," and a shot of Gyllenhaal from the movie next to three of his previous starring vehicles: Love & Other Drugs, Source Code and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Then a button that says "Rent One Tonight."


Has it gotten so bad for Blockbuster that they are now trying to trick us into thinking they have exclusive access to movies that have not even hit theaters yet?

Given that some movies are now available on VOD even before they hit theaters, this isn't an entirely ridiculous strategy. The ridiculous part is that anyone who cared (such as yours truly) could easily unmask the strategy and identify it as a blatant case of false advertising. It's promising something you can't deliver, which is a really, really bad idea in business. And it's almost as though Blockbuster knew this, which is why the reference to End of Watch is buried deep enough in the email to discourage casual investigation. I guess the very short-sighted idea is to excite you enough to get you to open the email, but then immediately make you forget why you were originally excited.

It pains me to write such an "exposé" about Blockbuster, because I always liked their customer service and always rooted for their business model to succeed. But a lack of success has reduced them to cheap bait-and-switch tactics. Almost better to just bow out gracefully, methinks.

The timing of this email couldn't be worse in terms of my own impression of the chain. One advantage Blockbuster continues to have over Netflix and Redbox is that it gets certain new releases up to 28 days before the two healthier DVD rental outlets. This came into play on Saturday, when I was trying to find a new release for us to watch that night (as you remember, we ended up with The Dictator from Redbox).

So I determined to swing by Blockbuster and see what they had. I know I'm still in their records, even though I don't even know where my rental card is anymore. The last time I rented from them, all I had to do was give them my driver's license. Fortunately, I do know where that is.

The problem? Not only was the Blockbuster closest to my house no longer in operation, but the second closest Blockbuster had also shuttered. I swear, the last time I checked, both of these locations were still afloat. Not anymore, I guess. Not remembering where the third closest one was -- and not being sure it would be open, even if I found it -- I abandoned this course of action and just settled on Redbox.

For Blockbuster, the title End of Watch has a real metaphorical significance.

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