Blockbuster is pretty much a punchline these days, they’re a relic of a bygone and altogether more shitty age where we couldn’t watch every episode of FRIENDS in our underwear. Now we all know that the company were once offered a chance to buy Netflix and turned it down, but the extent of their corporate short-sightedness goes way further.
Now in 2003, Blockbuster were starting to struggle but still doing reasonably okay from a business sense. Sure companies like Netflix (which still offered DVD rentals at the time as well as streaming) and Redbox were slowly opening up their asshole and shoving all sorts of things in there, but Blockbuster had something neither of those companies did, decades of goodwill, brand recognition and a blue logo.
While profits were down as is wont to happen when a massive company sweeps in and steals half your audience, Blockbuster were in a position to compete with and even overtake Netflix. Think about it, prior to the point they started haemorrhaging money out of every orifice, Blockbuster had copies of almost every movie ever made or released in the last 3 decades if they wanted to keep up with Netflix in postal rentals, they could have easily done so, likewise, they had the kind of brand power to secure fairly lucrative deals with publishers to get a great deal on movies if they wanted to enter the streaming market.
The thing is, Blockbuster refused to do any of those things, insisting that customers would remain loyal to their brand because they’d put up with their shit when they had a total and complete monopoly on the market in the 90’s. While they did eventually allow customers to rent movies via mail, they made the bizarre decision to charge more for the service than Netflix instead of charging less and dominating the market with their better known and at the time, trusted brand. The company also decided to scrap late fees – one of the most hated and archaic features of their business model – before inexplicably bringing them back in a desperate attempt to get more money a few years later.
When the company eventually ventured into the world of online streaming with their Total Access service, they only offered the latest releases (while Netflix offered the latest releases and awesome movies from your childhood). Unsurprisingly, the service sucked more ass than a mosquito in donkey country and it failed, really hard being completely dropped in 2007.
In 2010 the company made one last limping bid to nip at Netflix’s heels by introducing an app that allowed users to watch movies. The only problem was, the app only worked on phones and you couldn’t stream the movie to your TV. A problem made all the more hilarious when a spokesman insisted that this limitation was due to Blockbuster’s dedication to “quality” because customers watching fucking Star Wars on their phone clearly give a shit about how it looks.
What’s more, the app only allowed people to download movies not stream them (you know that thing they offered 3 years ago), meaning if you actually gave enough of a shit to download the app on your phone, you had to wait for the movie to download too before you could watch it. When an interviewer pointed out how fucking stupid this was and that they could watch the same movie instantly on any device they wanted with Netflix instead of 30 minutes from now on their phone, the Blockbuster executive shrugged and told them that customers could always “just go to Blockbuster.com, get the PC application, and download the file in the same way.” Something you may notice would still require the person to wait for the movie to download.
When the stunned interviewer asked if Blockbuster were doing anything to try and make the service more streamlined for customers who remember, could watch the same movie on Netflix instantly for cheaper, the executive smiled like they’d walked in wearing a top hat and been asked if they knew any magic tricks and proudly explained that they’d changed the text on the button that said “Download” to “Get it!” without actually making the process of watching the movie any faster. We’re not making any of that up.
As a final testament to how poorly the company understood the digital world, in the same interview the executive also boasted about how their app was going to be bundled exclusively on a Motorola phone that also blocked users from using Netflix. Because if there’s one thing consumers love, it’s being forced into downloading and using something they don’t want by their phone.
The thing is, if you think that’s stupid, wait until you read about how they were going to build giant adult fun centres in the 90’s filled with giant ball-pits, laser tag and that also sold alcohol and adult meals that still came with free toys and then decided nobody would want that.