Blockbuster: Backwards, Again

Includes: BBI, SNIC
by: Scott Berry

Blockbuster (BBI) has outdone itself now. It just announced a trial of in-store kiosks that will allow consumers to download movies directly into a portable media player [PMP] to take with them. For now, only the Archos player will be supported.

Let me get this straight.

Blockbuster wants you to hop in your car and drive to one of their outlets. Using soon-to-be-five-dollar gasoline. Just so you have the privilege of downloading a movie onto a portable player.

They do seem to have this whole thing ass backwards, don’t they?

Hello! Ever hear of the Internet? Why in the world isn’t this a download to your PC and then a transfer to the PMP? (Yeah, I know, the answer is the studios and their oh-so-customer-friendly Digital Rights Management fixation.) Blockbuster’s insistence on driving consumers to their increasingly useless stores has clearly reached new heights.

Meanwhile, Netflix (NFLX)–while noting its ultimate future is in downloads–predicts that its DVD mailing business won’t PEAK for 5 to 10 years. That tells me the smart money is on DVDs (either standard or Blu-ray) to last some time. I agree.

It’s not that downloads aren’t the preferred solution–personally, I can’t wait–but that universal adoption is a long way off. Why?

  1. The studios’ love affair with DRM, artificially reducing the availability of video fare and making it difficult to transfer media to other devices
  2. Still no inexpensive, simple solution in sight for getting video from the PC or Internet to your TV.

Here’s an idea: If you insist on making people drive somewhere, at least let them leave with a disc. Use Qflix technology from Sonic Solutions (SNIC) to print a fully licensed DVD out of the kiosk instead. That’s portability and ease-of-use in a single package. As I’ve noted before, this would allow Blockbuster to reduce/eliminate inventory, and get more Hollywood back catalog titles into customers’ hands.

[Sonic holds the key technology patents on download-to-burn, which has been approved by the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD-CCA). This allows discs to be burned with CSS encryption, pleasing the studios and making such copies legal commercial DVDs.]

Sonic was working with MovieLink, prior to its purchase by Blockbuster, to move this tech into the end user market. While disc burners for consumers probably won’t go mainstream anytime soon, Sonic is currently in trials with kiosk makers. It’s a nice transitional solution until discs are truly dead. Why Blockbuster has made no use of this technology is a puzzle.

But then so is everything else it does these days.

Disclosure: I hold no position in any of the stocks mentioned here.

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