The Blockbuster brand, known for its once-ubiquitous VHS rental chain, has recently reactivated its website, leading fans to speculate that a comeback may be in the works. While the website is not always functional, visitors who are able to access it will see a new landing page with the message "We are working on rewinding your movie."
For those who may not be familiar with VHS, it was a home video format that was popular in the 1980s and 1990s. VHS tapes were used to record and play movies and TV shows, and they were the primary way to watch movies at home before the rise of DVD and streaming services. VHS tapes were larger and bulkier than DVDs and were inserted into a VCR (video cassette recorder) to play. The tapes had to be rewound after each use, and if they were not rewound, the next person to use the tape would have to fast forward to find the beginning of the movie or show.
Blockbuster's rise and fall was closely tied to the popularity of VHS tapes. Founded by David Cook, the brand's success was due in part to Cook's love of databases, which allowed him to analyze demographics and tailor the stock of individual branches accordingly. Blockbuster's stores were known for having a larger selection of videos than smaller independent video stores, as well as being cleaner and more family-friendly. The brand's branding was also inescapable, making it seem as if Blockbuster was going to be a permanent feature of home entertainment.
However, Blockbuster's board made several fatal decisions that led to the brand's decline. In 1997, Warner Bros approached Blockbuster with an exclusive DVD rental deal that would have split revenue 60-40 in favor of the studio. Blockbuster rejected the deal, and the studio retaliated by dropping its DVD retail prices to undermine the rental industry. In 2000, Blockbuster made two even more fatal decisions. First, it turned down the opportunity to purchase the then-fledgling Netflix. Second, it chose instead to partner with Enron, which filed for bankruptcy within a year. Within five years, Netflix was shipping out a million DVDs every day, and Blockbuster was yesterday's news.
Blockbuster's subsequent contraction was just as spectacular as its growth. By 2012, there were just 1,503 Blockbuster branches in operation. A year later, there were only 787, and by the following year, just 54. Today, there is only one branch of Blockbuster in operation globally, in Bend, Oregon. The branch now primarily exists as a tourist attraction, similar to the ancient ruins of Pompeii.
Despite the decline of the brand, there have been attempts to revive it. Blockbuster's parent company has filed trademark applications for an updated logo and a cryptocurrency and NFT marketplace in the past. However, these attempts were unsuccessful, and if Blockbuster is indeed making a comeback, it will need to be for a substantial reason.
The warm reception to the upcoming Blackberry movie suggests that there may be a hunger for stories about giants swept aside by progress, so perhaps a new Blockbuster movie is on the horizon. Only time will tell whether Blockbuster will make a full-blown return.