Beyond Blockbuster: 6 Key Stages Of Home Video Evolution
4. Blockbuster video (wow, what a difference.)
Pay-Per-View wasn’t really the game changer it should have been. Technology wasn’t quite ready to take movies to the next level of On Demand yet, so we were all still renting our videos in the 90s. And that's where Blockbuster came in. Unlike the little video store, this place was like a supermarket of videos, with aisles of tapes (and later DVDs) and whole walls dedicated to new releases. They also sold candy at movie-theater-like prices. Not only were Blockbusters sprouting up all over the place, but the latter part of the decade included the arrival of Blockbuster’s bigger competition, Hollywood Video. Apparently, this place was around in the late 80s, but I’d never set foot in one until the late-90s, and with the exception of their more flexible policy on rentals for new releases, the stores were pretty interchangeable, in that they were both big video stores that carried lots of copies of the new releases and a reasonable assortment of other hit movies.
Honestly, my memories of Blockbuster are a bit underwhelming when I factor in the full scope of my home video history. Sure, it had a lot more square footage than the old video stores, and they carried the new releases right away, but the cost wasn’t great, nor were the late fees. And maybe my memory of the establishment is a bit more bittersweet than it might have been had I not once been accused of renting and failing to return The Hurricane from a Blockbuster I’d never set foot in. (I think they were trying to charge me something like $100 for the replacement copy.). But if there’s one thing I loved about Blockbuster, it’s that they sold pre-viewed movies at a discount, and as I was big on building my video library in the 90s, that was a big one. Which brings us to…
5. Video clubs.
Growing up in a household where 98% of our home video collection was lettered VHS tapes, I was eager to begin building a proper video library in the 90s when I left home and went to college. But movies weren’t cheap in the mid-90s. A new release on tape could cost upwards of $24.99 or more. That’s where services like Columbia House were huge. While some college kids were trying to fulfill the agreed-upon purchasing requirements of their BMG CD club, I was filling up my dorm room with VHS tapes courtesy of those mail-in video clubs. You picked a certain amount of movies for a ridiculously low price like a dollar a piece or a penny or something, and then maybe you got two more for a higher but still-low price, and you committed to buying a few more movies at any point in the next year or two. Of course, with shipping and tax and everything, those additional movies cost like $30 a piece, but you’d worry about that later. YOLO!
All those tapes (some of which you can see in the pic above) ended up on eBay five or six years later when I was trying to upgrade to DVD. And that brings us to the 2000s…
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