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July 13, 2009


Not the business you'd expect to be booming

Redbox video

You know those video rental kiosk box things you see every so often inside a Circle K or a ShopRite? And you probably think: Huh? Now that Kim's Video is gone, your local video store has started offering two-for-one Monday through Thursday out of sheer desperation, and even your parents do Netflix, someone had the bright idea of opening a line of DVD vending machines?

But Redbox, the company that runs those machines, is doing pretty well and is actually growing--15,000 locations, and 7.5 million rentals every week. Not too bad compared to Netflix's 10 million per week.

The Times did a feature on Redbox that suggests some advantages the company has going for it, which also tell you a thing or two about the kind of customer they likely have. Rentals go for only $1 a day, you don't have to use a computer or create an account to rent, and when you're already at a McDonald's and see Taken or Meatballs through the kiosk window (they've got 'em) that's an impulse rental that a lot of people are very ready to make.

The main reason that I still use my local video store (other than the fact that its collection is exceptionally good) is that when I want to watch The Bourne Identity or Rock 'n' Roll High School, I usually want to watch them right now. Sure, if I decide I need to catch up on all the French new wave stuff I didn't see in college or make my way through everything Barbara Stanwyck ever did, I'm happy to wait for a Netflix delivery. But on those rare occasions when you need to watch Almost Famous and it's not airing on VH1 or streaming on Netflix, you need a fail-safe option for immediate viewing.

The Redbox selection is, of course, not remotely comparable to the Netflix selection, with each kiosk only stocking about 200 titles, but even this could be pitched as a selling point. The president of the company, who worked at Netflix for 6 years before defecting, says the typical Redbox customer "doesn't want to wade through titles they won't be interested in." Their top rental title ever is Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Netflix's top title is Crash.

In other words, for the Redbox customer, you can keep your precious non-linear social commentary on race and class that you add to your schmancy online queue. I'll pick up Step Brothers and Starship Troopers along with some Crunch 'n Munch at Walgreens.

There are more and more ways to get access to movies, and increasingly they don't involve leaving your home. So it's interesting that people are still willing to go out into the world to pick up a physical disc, as long as it's easy, really cheap, and they can do it while they're somewhere they have to go anyway.

So good for you, Redbox and your $1 rentals. I looked up my closest kiosk location on the website (on the "Find a Redbox" page that uses, of course!, Mapquest) so I'm heading there tomorrow to get a hyper-affordable mainstream DVD and wage some movie rental class warfare.

UPDATE: So I went to my local Redbox machine in a Walgreen's, scrolled around the movies they had, and ended up abandoning my mainstream vision by renting I've Loved You So Long, that French movie from last year with Kristen Scott Thomas. This movie might not be in the highest demand for Redbox customers, but it was great. And $1.08, including tax!

I may not go out of my way to rent from Redbox, but the interface is super easy and intuitive and the whole rental process took less than 3 minutes (in part because they don't have all that many movies to scroll through.) For times when you want to see a particular movie and want to be watching the opening credits in less than 15 minutes, it's a good option.

categories: Business, Culture, Movies
posted by amy at 11:08 PM | #

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We're hardcore Netflix/Roku users, but Roku is still pretty limited, and Redbox does have cheap new releases. They don't have Super-Size Me though, and I would prefer to not actually have to go into the McDonald's. I've seen one in Portland (OR), where the Redbox is in the parking lot.

Maybe they should make it part of the drive-thru experience. Or get Domino's/Papa John's in on this. That would be super lazy/convenient.

Posted by: ORStylee at July 14, 2009 9:04 AM

I've seen photos online of outdoor Redbox machines in parking lots, which is sort of cool and bizarre. But if you know what movie you want, you could very easily drive up to a machine, and have a DVD in hand in less than 2 minutes without getting out of your car.

I'm impressed that the machine you saw had Super-Size Me (even if its availability at a McDonald's pretty much guarantees that nobody will ever rent that particular copy) and I thought the selection at the NYC machine I browsed through wasn't half bad.

The movie I got is a very small movie by a first-time director, in French. Renting a movie that only screened at the Angelika out of a Times Square vending machine is the perfect combination of high-brow and lazy instant gratification.

Posted by: amy at July 16, 2009 2:19 PM

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