The Fall of the Video Store Empire

In the early-1980s, video store chains popped up all over the country. The once-lucrative business rented out Betamax and VHS tapes at an affordable price for American families. By the late-1980s, VHS tapes dominated the market until DVDs and Blu-rays became all the craze in the early-2000s. The affordability of renting as opposed to buying a VHS in the 80s was astronomical! VHS tapes were available at drug stores, supermarkets, and major chains like Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, and Family Video.

In the late-2000s, however, video rentals plummeted as the world dove into the age of streaming and technology, but echoes from the once-beloved movie night can be felt by an entire generation. Sure, the accessibility of streaming and the award-winning original content distributed by these services is fundamental to media today. However, movie nights are no longer the event that they once were. Driving to the store to pick out the latest release or a classic favorite was half the fun. So what exactly killed the video store? Was it the late fees? Was it the accessibility of streaming, or was it just simply it’s time? In this article, we will examine the rise and fall of video rental stores.


Related: In Defense of Movie Theaters

Back to Betamax: An Origin Story


To say that a Betamax tape is basically just a VHS that is a tad smaller would be a fair statement. Both formats had the same picture resolution, the same playback concept, and even housed film in the same plastic black casing. So, why was there a format war? Much like DVDs and Blu-rays, the quality difference between the two platforms is almost indistinguishable, but collectors of physical media would argue that the visual clarity of Blu-rays is much greater than that of a standard DVD. However, the real reason that Betamax tapes became inferior to VHS is because Betamax was so much harder to acquire by major distributors.

Rewind to the year 1975: by now, most households across the globe had access to color television sets. Sony had introduced the Betamax VCR. Not only did the VCR and Betamax tape introduce the ability to record a program for later viewing, but also entertained the idea of ​​bringing major motion pictures into the family living room. Sony, being so protective of their invention halted distribution, but could not keep up with increasing demands. Competitors like VHS and JVC allowed any company to use the platform as they wanted, thus making the VHS tape the victor of an unspoken war.

That Friday Night Feeling


One of the most appealing aspects of being an 80s or 90s kid was knowing that, come Friday, once that final bell rang, you’d be on your way home and there was a chance that your parent was going to take you to the video store to rent a movie for the night. Maybe you’d even get two for Saturday. Plus your favorite candy. You could not beat it! If you were a teen going to a sleepover, you’d be stacking up on all the horror classics and finding new ones based on the box art. For many, this was the draw in. A good cover meant a good lead-in, which made it all the more likely to get picked up.

Today, the way the world consumes media is much different. One can stream virtually any movie they want with one click of their remote from the comfort of their home. Hours can be spent scrolling through catalogs of dozens of movies and dozens of genres, and one can simply change their mind. The accessibility of media that exists today is astounding. Someone who would have never been exposed to a monumental film like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre can venture to any major streaming service and find it on at least one. Netflix even still offers their original service of mail order DVD rentals, which includes access to a broader catalog of movies as an addition to a regular subscription. Although this is all good and well, there is something missing, and it’s something that all humans crave in their core: every time we stream, we are missing that Friday night feeling — the connections made over loving a film and sharing an opinion. They were not just selling you a new release, they were selling you an experience.

The Fall of an Empire

The lucrative business of video rental reigned well before the new Millennium, but has gone down as a staple of pop culture for an entire generation. Video stores have long been dead, but they live on in films like Scream, I Am Legend, and The Holiday. Even Captain Marvel features a Blockbuster Video in the crash scene to show that Carol Danvers has been transported back to the 90s. So, where did it all go wrong? Why is the video store now a “period piece” and not around today?

Take a store like Blockbuster Video. At its peak in 2002 it was worth well over $ 5 billion dollars, and had over 9,000 stores. Fast-forward back to today and there is only one standing in Bend, Oregon. For a while, many people assumed that Blockbuster closed because they did not buy Netflix when they had the chance. However, stores like Blockbuster and Family Video started reaching extinction because they could not keep up with the demand and accessibility of modern streaming and video on demand services. Most people do not even own a DVD player anymore. Even if Blockbuster had bought Netflix when they had the chance, it would not have mattered. In time, the storefronts would have closed and everything would still be as it. Maybe just under a different name.

Related: Crypto Group Planning to Buy Blockbuster and Revive It as Streaming Service

An Untimely Goodbye


Streaming services offers variety, convenience, and an endless selection of movies across all genres. Today, blockbuster films get limited theater releases or go direct to streaming. However, some are sad to see the age of the video store go. Like people who refuse to read anything but a physical book, there are people who refuse to stop collecting physical media. Some even have basements full of memorabilia or even their own personal video store set-ups housing their large collections. In a world where we are more connected than ever through technology and social media, there is a warmth that is missing from behind the screen. Reading a box, asking for a recommendation, or even something as simple as picking out a box of candy all get lost in the translation of remote couch-surfing. Will video stores ever make a return? In this ever progressive world, most likely never. However, they are an important part of pop culture and deserve a re-watch from time to time. Plus, a little nostalgia never hurts anybody.

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