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Progress Breeds Nostalgia

March 7, 2010

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A few weeks ago the local Hollywood Video shop announced it was shutting its doors for good.  I was pretty surprised by the news considering it was the only walk-in DVD rental store in the vicinity.  The closing made me think about where people are going for their DVD fixes these days.

There are other options in the neighborhood still available for movie rentals.  Red Box has three vending machines nearby, all within a few hundred feet of each other.  There are the online rental options too.  I finally opened a Netflix account after hearing the high remarks about their service from friends.  So far, I have been pretty happy with them.

The local Hollywood Video closing was the result of a recent bankruptcy filed by its parent company, Movie Gallery.  Announced in February, the massive chain planned to close 805 stores across the U.S.  That amounts to about one-third of the company’s total outlets.  It was the second bankruptcy filed in the past three years by the video retailer.

Price competition has caused consumers to migrate to cheaper and more convenient resources.  Hollywood Video offers a five-day rental on new releases for roughly five dollars.  Compare that to Red Box and their $1 per night charge and it’s a no brainer.  Netflix offers a subscription service starting at $8.99 per month.  The package includes an unlimited number of rentals, exchanging one DVD per mail delivery.  It also features unlimited access to their online library.  Better yet, there are no dreaded late fees.

Online DVD distributors, such as Netflix, are one of the reasons rental store chains are struggling. They offer a timely mail delivery service, as well as unlimited access to an online selection.

The closing of Hollywood Video is more than a by-product of economics.  It represents the inevitable passing of another entertainment medium, the DVD.  The ‘digital video disc’ has experienced a glorious, but short lifespan in the commercial entertainment industry.  Introduced to the U.S. in 1997, the DVD successfully replaced the now archaic VHS cassette tape.

DVD movie rentals and sales still dominate the media market, but for how long?  Netflix, along with other distributors, have proven that the movie viewing experience can be achieved through Internet streaming technology.  Faster broadband connections enable consumers to watch their favorite movies on their HDTV, laptop, or smartphone.

Where will these developments ultimately leave the DVD movie?  One word.  Nostalgia. You can soon add your impressive DVD movie collection to the list of outdated media.  In my lifetime I have witnessed the passing of vinyl records, 8-track tapes, audiocassettes, VHS, Betamax, and Laserdisc.  The compact disc is well on its way to joining the group.

Some of these media had minimal industry impact or consumer popularity.  Others, like vinyl, were monumental in the commercial entertainment business.  The nostalgia associated with vinyl still resonates today.  There’s something mystical about that scratchy pop of a needle across wax.  Just listen to hip-hop songs these days for validation.

There’s something else vinyl LP’s had that you don’t see anymore, album artwork.  I recently discovered a wonderful collection of LP’s for sale at a flea market, priced no more than five dollars apiece.  There were hundreds of them, prominent rock bands from the 70s and 80s all with beautiful album artwork.  Boston, Rush, Triumph, and Styx to name a few.  It was somewhat saddening to think that brilliant album cover art would never be tangible in the form of a digital download.

Vinyl albums represent nostalgia, and the DVD is on its way there as well.  The experience of visiting a retail DVD rental store is often underappreciated.  For a movie connoisseur like myself, there is no greater joy than thumbing through aisles of DVD releases.  Those numerous times that you struck a conversation with the person next to you with “That was pretty good, I’d recommend that one for sure” were genuine moments of interaction.  You might still have those conversations in the future, but they’ll be at your local used-DVD store.

Those used-media stores will be the final destination for many DVD’s and CD’s.  About two years ago, I decided to convert my entire CD collection, several hundred of them, to digital format.  They were occupying living space in my apartment.  I sold them to a buy-and-sell-used shop for decent money.  It wasn’t easy to part ways with them.  I still remember the first compact disc album I ever bought, Aerosmith’s P.U.M.P. People get attached to a lot of different things over time.  For me, it was my compact disc collection.

I can’t imagine parting with my DVD collection anytime soon.  I have some personal gems that I have watched many times over.  When I struggled for cash and made frequent trips to the pawnshop, the DVD’s were never part of the exchanges.  I figured if I ever got evicted, at least I had my movie collection

Down the road, I am sure that attachment will also come to pass.  Right now, a typical two-hour flick will eat up several gigabytes of hard drive space in digital format.  That is valuable space I can’t afford to give up.

Compression technology will improve, making it possible to ‘rip’ movies into compact files, with exceptional audio and visual quality, and with minimal storage space.  Plus, the storage cabinet I recently purchased is already full.  I bet I’ll make a good buck on that sale.

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