The future of movie watching

blockbuster sign

The blue ripped ticket with yellow lettering had become as recognizable a symbol as the face of the KFC Colonel.

Underneath the familiar logo was a nearly blank sign with one letter on it – a “Y”.

This was what remained of the closed-down Blockbuster store in Westhills Towne Centre.

“Over the winter, it usually got twice as busy,” says Russell Green, an ex-employee of Blockbuster Canada. “You make about $1,500 on a good summer evening versus over $3,000 during the winter.”

Late last summer when Blockbuster Canada announced all stores would be liquidating their assets and close down – Green was one of hundreds who lost their jobs.

However, the question remains: where can we get our fix of shiny Hollywood goodness with the winter months now upon us?

Netflix: for the tech-savvy renter

Netflix was founded in 1997 in the U.S. as a DVD rental-by-mail service that brought DVDs right to your door. Its streaming service was brought to Canada in 2010. states that the company lost a number of subscribers when it announced its mail-order renting and its movie streaming would become two separate plans and the costs would go up.

Netflix lost almost 300,000 subscribers in a four-month period. Naturally, Netflix retracted its plans to separate and continued to remain under one marquee.

The company’s quarterly report on shows it has seen growth, despite its slight deviation from the original formula – from under 17 million subscribers in Sept. 2010 to over 25 million in Sept. 2011.

Internationally, subscriptions have gone from only 133,000 to 1.5 million. This increase of viewers supports the idea that people are upgrading to more convenient ways of renting movies.

“It’s all about technology,” says Green. “It’s only going to keep progressing in that direction.”

Katelyn McKay, university student says, “The days of the pre-downtime tradition of heading to the local movie store are going the way of the dodo.”

“I kind of miss it. I used to like walking through a video store on Friday night and having to pick a movie,” McKay says. “Now I don’t have to leave my couch.”

Netflix versus Video On Demand

Video on Demand – or VOD – is a movie-rental option supplied by Shaw Communications, Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Canada and Bell Canada. VOD has a large section of older movies that are also available in high definition.

rentingalternativesRenting alternatives
Illustration by: Guillermo Barraza

McKay says that the cost of VOD might be why she enjoys Netflix more. “With VOD, you have to pay for every movie you watch. Netflix is just $8 a month and you watch all you want.”

As of 2007, DVDPlay became available in Safeway stores across Western Canada. These kiosks accept credit cards and supply newrelease DVDs and favourites for as little as $1.79.

If surfing your VOD, heading to your nearest Safeway store or suscribing to netflix still aren’t your first options, you could always head to the library.

More at the library than books

With a Calgary Public Library card, customers can rent DVDs and Blu-Rays from their local library.

Joye Hardman, a Calgary Public Library representative, says the catalogue features new releases as well as classics, documentaries, how-to.

Since its introduction in 2004, Hardman says the library’s DVD collection has been very popular, and as a response to increased renting with more than 4 million DVDs rented out in 2010, the library’s collection is constantly expanding.

Hardman says the catalogue can be browsed online at the library’s website.

The little video store that could

On the corner of 33rd Avenue and 21st Street in Marda Loop sits Casablanca Video.

For people who still enjoy doing the unsure shuffle through aisles and reading the movie synopses, there is still what owner Jon Lord calls “the little video store that could.”

Casablanca Video has been a staple in the community of Marda Loop since it opened its door almost 30 years ago. Since Blockbuster closed, Lord has noticed an increase in renters.

“As all those other stores have closed, we have actually seen increased business,” says Lord. “That is what I expected and was counting on.”

“Who knows, we may end up the last video rental store left anywhere.”

The most appealing feature is its abundant collection of hard-to-find older movies and hidden independent films. Lord says there is still a following of people that enjoy the experience and ask for help from employees who know their movies.

“Video rental stores make for a great location to go on ‘date nights,’ to go browsing for hidden diamonds, and to socialize,” he says.

Lord says there is a niche even for a “dying” source of entertainment.

“Across the parking lot from (Casablanca) – is a vinyl record store that does quite well – seems there is a market even for that.”

Although the video store might head in the direction of a nostalgic novelty much like record stores, we seem to have a variety of other options.

Editor’s note: Reporter Guillermo Barraza is a former Blockbuster employee

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