Monday, January 15, 2018

Saving Hoyts Kiosk, four rentals at a time

They’re building a new Woolworth’s supermarket down the street from us, which my wife and I both consider a very exciting development. In fact, part of the reason we’re dragging our feet on moving, something we think it might be prudent for us to do, is because we don’t want to move out of our neighborhood before it gets its Woolies. It’s supposed to open in mid-2018, which is soon soon soon.

We’re both excited about the easy access to our preferred grocery store, but for a while I’ve been secretly excited about something else I thought might accompany this new store: a Hoyts kiosk.

You see, when I first came to Australia, most of the Hoyts kiosks resided in Woolworth’s. Back then, I could still get new release rentals from a couple video stores, but those video stores closed a good three years ago. Now, these telephone booth-sized repositories are about the only remaining way to rent physical media.

Soon, there will be none. Instead of hoping that my new Woolies might get a Hoyts kiosk, now I’m reconciling myself to the fact that there may not even be a Hoyts kiosk business model by mid-2018.

The signs of impending doom have been there for a while. First they closed the newest one they’d opened, at an IGA that was conveniently on my ride home from work, near my son’s school. Then they closed the one at the IGA that’s near my work, which I used to ride out to at lunch.

But the real harbinger of the apocalypse came when they closed all the kiosks in the central business district. I mean, all of them. I used to frequent ones at the Queen Victoria Center or the Melbourne Central Shopping Center, the latter of which actually had two in its heyday. But when I went a few weekends back to let the kids pick up a movie, as a way to get them to cooperate with the several errands we had to run (and so I could pick up something for myself without them hassling me), the one in the QV Center was gone. Poof. A few days later, I was at Melbourne Central and noted that one had vanished too. When I searched online for the closest to the postal code for my work, I found them only in suburbs whose names were only vaguely familiar to me. I mean, they were all within a reasonable distance, in terms of kilometers, but none of them represented realistic options for me.

Except one. There’s still one at the Woolworth’s in Moonee Ponds, which is a ten-minute drive from my house.

So that’s where I went on Saturday, renting a whopping four titles for the weekend viewing binge just completed: The Book of Henry, 47 Meters Down, The Beguiled and Wind River. I’d have rented more if there were more I’d wanted. (I opted to pass on Flatliners, though it does make a good if unfortunate thematic accompaniment to this post.)

Rent ‘em Saturday morning in time to get them back by Sunday night. Perfect.

Yeah, that was $16 worth of rentals, but on iTunes it would have cost me more than $20. A disturbing number of the movies I want to rent from iTunes are $4.99 and even $5.99, and though I’d have to rent some that way, I didn’t want it to be all.

My first instinct was to figure out if the most number of movies I’ve ever rented at one time from a kiosk would entitle me to some kind of bulk discount. It had been a long time since I’d gotten one of those emails from Hoyts, telling me I could rent one and get one free – or more likely, rent three and get the fourth free. Something that usually wouldn’t be practical for me, but would be in this case. I even went to the website to look for deals. The last one they offered was a three for $9 deal in September. I could practically see the tumbleweeds rolling through the promotions sections on the site.

Then of course it occurred to me that the point was not to see what I could get from Hoyts for the minimum financial output. The point was to try to keep Hoyts in business. So in the end, I gave them my $15.96 with a smile.

The smile faltered pretty quickly though. These kiosks are already a relic, and soon they’re going to vanish entirely. In terms of my sentimental love of the video store, they’re a poor facsimile to begin with, but even this poor facsimile soon will be gone. And my $15.96 is not going to postpone this inevitability by even a minute.

It heartened me some to see that when I first got there, there was a couple puzzling over what they were going to rent, then another woman coming up and rubbernecking to see when it would be her turn. This small traffic jam at the kiosk, which ordinarily would have annoyed me and instantly made me impatient, instead felt like a positive sign. I did about $30 worth of shopping and returned to find it open for me to use.

But I’m kidding myself. The Hoyts kiosk is in its death throes. Few people are willing to put up with going to great lengths to rent a movie one day and return it to a specific location – albeit one of any number of (increasingly fewer) specific locations – by 9 p.m. the next day. For not much more on iTunes, you get your movie instantly, and if you don’t start watching it that day, no big deal. You have 30 days to start watching it. And once you start watching it, you have 48 hours to finish. Even stretching it, the most hours you can get out of a Hoyts rental is about 36.

The upcoming loss is symbolic more than practical. Practically speaking, iTunes always wins, in everything except the money – and even then, you have to factor in the extra time and petrol (gas) it took me to make round trips to this Woolies on consecutive days. Since I keep relatively little free space on my hard drive, downloading rentals from iTunes has always had a cap on it in terms of my capacity, but recently even this is no longer a problem. I only recently started noticing, perhaps because it only recently became available, that you don’t actually have to download your rentals anymore unless it’s convenient for you to do so. You can just stream them. Which I did this weekend with The Trip to Spain and Columbus, easily and without any drama.

So Hoyts will lose, in the long run, but maybe it will go longer than I think. Maybe the reason Hoyts is no longer operating in areas of high transit, like those locations in our central business district, is because it isn’t really practical for people to get to those locations both to pick up and return movies. Though maybe it would be practical just to serve a small neighborhood, where people can rent and return by foot. It’s keeping the Moonee Ponds kiosk in business – for now. Could my neighborhood be that kind of neighborhood?

I said up at the top that I’m trying to save the Hoyts kiosk by giving them my money at this crucial juncture in their existence. But I’m fooling myself. I could only rent those four movies because my family was out of town and I was watching during the daytime. And once my 2017 list closes, in just eight days, I’ll go into a period of not caring much about new releases on video. In fact, I typically don’t start renting again from the Hoyts kiosk until the first 2018 movies start coming out on DVD, usually sometime in May.

If there is still a Hoyts kiosk to rent from in May. 

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