Has the internet really killed DVD rental stores the way video killed the radio star? Tara McGrath finds out.
Every Monday morning, an elderly woman walks into DVD Destination in Tecoma with a little notebook in hand. She stands at the counter and the staff instantly know what to do.
They dash through the aisles of the rental store and choose a range of DVDs they know the woman will enjoy watching that week.
It’s a routine that’s been going on for years, says Ann Broad, manager of the independent DVD rental store. And it’s also one she believes isn’t likely to change soon.
‘‘People still like the fact that they can browse, ask us what we would recommend, then we’ll learn their tastes and we can pick an even better movie for them next time.’’
Despite consistently gloomy outlooks for DVD stores, independent and chain rental stores are convinced there is still a place for them despite the ever-growing popularity of downloading movies and television series.
In fact, the managing director of Franchise Entertainment, which encompasses Blockbuster, Video Ezy,Webflix and Ezy DVD, claims it’s a ‘‘buoyant industry’’ that is adapting.
Talking with the Weekly, Paul Uniacke uses the word ‘‘opportunity’’ more than any other. He is a staunch defender of the DVD rental industry and believes people’s perceptions of it are misplaced.
Uniacke says there were never as many DVD rental stores as generally believed and, rather than shutting down, many are consolidating.
A Blockbuster store in MtWaverley downsized last month, moving across the road into a much smaller premises.
‘‘Consolidation isn’t necessarily a bad thing,’’ Uniacke says. ‘‘It happened in the fuel industry.’’
The Australian Video Rental Retailers Association says there are 1350 DVD rental stores Australia-wide, down from 2250 at the industry’s peak.
Uniacke, however, isn’t counting the number of stores as a measure of success, with Franchise Entertainment recently opening Video Ezy kiosks around the country.
The kiosks are DVD vending machines and, while he says customer service is still a very important selling point for his stores, they’re a way to attract new customers. There are already two kiosks in Pakenham, as well as many others across Australia.
The company hopes to have 500 installed by Christmas and several thousand over the next couple of years.
Video Ezy and Blockbuster don’t have stores in a Westfield shopping centre or city CBD, Uniacke says, because the rents are ‘‘prohibitive’’.
He does say independent stores can struggle, as they lack buying power and have to meet the same regulations as any business.
‘‘They need to be a human resources specialist, have armed robbery training, be an accountant, have legal knowledge, advertise, learn the ACCC and trade practices, as well as be an expert in buying products.’’ But while many independent stores are shutting their doors and customer numbers are lower, DVD Destination boasts regular customers, just like the elderly woman, who enjoy the familiarity with staff and the wide selection of movies.
The drawback with kiosks is that they only offer new releases and movies have a shelf life of just four months in the machine. And, of course, they can’t talk you through a movie choice.
That’s where these smaller stores can hold their own, store manager Ann Broad says.
‘‘We still get lovers of the weeklies coming in to have a browse. It’s different from looking on a computer.’’
‘‘People come in and say they have no idea what to rent, so we ask what genres they like and then help them choose a couple of suitable titles.’’
The mother of two has been in the rental industry for the better part of 20 years and seen many changes—the transition from video to DVD, lower rental prices and declining customer numbers.
‘‘It’s quieter now. When I first started working in shops you would have queues down to the back wall and you’d be going all night.
‘‘We certainly still get queues on Friday and Saturday nights, but it’s not what it used to be.’’
But she believes the service they offer will always keep the store buzzing, especially in a small community such as Tecoma.
‘‘There’s not much reception around here, so a lot of people don’t watch TV. And there are a lot of older people who can’t download so they come in and we help them choose a good movie.’’ Nevertheless, smaller DVD stores like the one in Tecoma are becoming harder and harder to come by. When the Weekly tried to contact several stores for comment, the recorded message ‘‘this phone number is no longer connected’’ was, sadly, a regular occurrence.
But another sector is apparently as equally interested in the survival of DVD rental stores as the business owners themselves—the Australian movie industry.
The Australian Video Rental Retailers Association commissioned a survey recently on which it bases its claim that if it weren’t for the rental industry, Australian movies would not compete with Hollywood blockbusters.
The figures showed that 2.5 million people watched Australian films borrowed from a DVD rental store, with 1.8 million of those people watching Daybreakers, Bran Nue Dae and I Love You Too.
Daybreakers, starring Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke, was rented by 380,000 people and an estimated 761,876 people watched the film in its first year of release (based on two people viewing each rental).
RossWalden, executive director of the Australian Video Rental Retailers Association, says Australian films ‘‘will always have a proud place in stores across the country’’.
He says the success of those films is due to the number of copies available in stores.
Many Australian films aren’t dispensed at vending machines,Walden says, which gives stores the edge.
‘‘A lot of these Australian films don’t get as much recognition in the industry, apart from something like Red Dog.’’ Broad says the Tecoma store will soon have its own Australia-only aisle because she believes the store can be a ‘‘good advocate’’ for the local film industry.
Some Video Ezy stores also have attached ice-cream stores. In several NSW stores you can get a pizza when you pick up your movie.
It’s all part of the push to keep stores viable in the current economic climate, so there isn’t a total switch to kiosks and downloads.
But independent and chain stores both agree on what will continue to get customers through their doors—price.
‘‘It’s like an outing for families,’’ Broad says. ‘‘They come into the store and the kids are getting all excited and they’ll go pick their movies. The parents choose one and they get chips, lollies and a Coke. It’s a fun thing to do.’’