Reading Retail and Rental

Following up on yesterday’s post, I have a couple f other quick thoughts about how we read trends in the movie industry. First, The Los Angeles Times lists the ten most-frequently rented movies in Redbox kiosks, both nationally and in the Los Angeles area. And in both cases, the film rented most often was the Adam Sandler vehicle, Just Go with It. Many of the other top choices–No Strings Attached, Due Date, and Despicable Me–were also comedies, while a number of popular films, such as The Tourist and Green Hornet, were considered to be box office duds. I’m a little reluctant to identify any kind of causal relationship here, though, because as the Times points out, the number of rentals over one calendar year can depend on any number of other factors, including the time of year when the film was released, as well as whether the studio released the film for purchase and rental on the same day. That being said, many of these rentals seem to be examples of convenience rentals (I’m tossing around the term “cinema of convenience” to describe these forms of access), movies that consumers watch when they just want to watch something, rather than the kinds of movies that people might go out of their way to see. That’s just an impression, but it leads into some other questions I’ve been thinking about.

On a related note, I found David Poland’s “reading” of his Best Buy experience to be a little more telling, albeit problematic on a couple of levels. I do think that it makes sense for journalists (and film scholars) to use ethnographic approaches to try to get some grasp on “everyday” uses of home video. I tried to do something like that with my Redbox article (which should be out very soon), and I think it’s incredibly easy to get swept up in some of the more utopian proclamations about digital delivery.

I suspect that Poland is right about two aspects of his trip to Best Buy. 3D TV is not yet ready for primetime (as signified by the lack of retail space and programming devoted to it), while internet-ready TV seems like something that offers additional value to viewers. As Poland notes, most of the TV sets on display emphasized the different kinds of  internet access (Netflix, etc) available. He’s probably also right that DVD retail (in whatever format) is probably in some peril. I don’t think users are ready to abandon physical media, given the continued popularity of Redbox and Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service.  But I think Poland oversteps when he argues that studios are ready for users to abandon physical media for a hodgepodge of streaming video, electronic sell-through, and DVD copies.

As a number of commenters noted, the process of making a digital copy is a time-consuming one, and although faster processors may make this easier, it may not be as convenient as it appears. Certainly having objects delivered to your home (via Amazon or whatever) is easier than driving to stores, but for bigger purchases–TV’s, laptops, etc.–there are a number of incentives for testing a product in-store, but it’s probably too early to suggest that streaming and other forms of digital delivery are necessarily more convenient or desirable than other options. Although Poland is probably right to suggest that Best Buy’s retail model will likely evolve, I think it’s also worth complicating how we define convenience, especially when it comes to the habits of movie consumers, many of whom are seeking easy or simplified choices. Redbox makes this easier by offering a limited range of top hits. Internet-enabled TVs make it easier to access a menu of movie and TV options directly through the TV set. I’m not so sure that “digital copy” approaches offer anything that makes it easier to pick out and watch a movie on a Friday night after work.

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