Retro: Your lo­cal video shop

The rise and fall of the home video rental mar­ket

Computer Shopper - - CONTENTS -

The place to get your film fix be­fore Net­flix

ONCE UPON A time, we didn’t have Sky on de­mand, or Net­flix, or Ama­zon Prime to find a film to watch. We had to go down to the video shop and see if the film we wanted was in.

It was in the late 1980s that video tapes of the VHS va­ri­ety started to pop up in petrol sta­tions, off li­cences and newsagents. With their of­ten loud and be­guil­ing cover im­ages, the tapes quickly be­came one of the most pop­u­lar ways – other than go­ing to the cin­ema or a Punch and Judy show – to es­cape from every­day life and see some­thing ex­cit­ing.

Video tapes were rented in both VHS and Be­ta­max for­mats while the for­mat wars ran their course. Soon there were ded­i­cated video stores in towns up and down the UK, with aisles and aisles of rental op­por­tu­ni­ties. Lo­cal li­braries even ex­panded their loan of­fer­ings to add video tapes as well as books.

How­ever, the rep­u­ta­tion of videos, and the peo­ple that rented them, took a bash­ing dur­ing the ‘Video Nas­ties’ cam­paign or­gan­ised by Mary White­house and the Na­tional View­ers’ and Lis­ten­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion in the early 1980s. Af­ter some con­sid­er­a­tion, a list of 72 nas­ties was pro­duced and they were banned from rental. Nat­u­rally, the list, which in­cludes films be­ing shown on tele­vi­sion, be­came no­to­ri­ous, and col­lec­tors con­stantly tracked them down.

STORE WARS

The 1980s pro­duced a num­ber of clas­sic movies, in­clud­ing Flash­dance, Back to the

Fu­ture and The Em­pire Strikes Back, but there were times when the op­tion you wanted wasn’t in. Then you could re­serve your cho­sen ti­tle for the next day, or if it was due in the day you were there, you could keep check­ing back in. Al­ter­na­tively, you could have rented one of the films that would be con­sid­ered as cult now on DVD; movies such as The Toxic Avenger or Crit­ters.

Over time, the qual­ity of the tapes would de­te­ri­o­rate, although they were typ­i­cally tougher than the ones sold di­rect to the con­sumer. The rise of the video store also led to a band of home pi­rates, those lucky enough to own two video cas­sette play­ers and some nifty Scart leads, who could make their own black-mar­ket copies of hired movies.

Even­tu­ally, a gi­ant in the video store game emerged, an in­vader from the US called Blockbuster, which swooped in and picked up the lo­cal Ritz video chain and led to the clo­sure of many small in­de­pen­dent rental shops. With the re­sources to stock lots of copies of a pop­u­lar film, and a sort of mini mar­ket for cin­ema-style treats such as pop­corn and fizzy pop, Blockbuster soon be­came the place to go.

NEW FOR­MATS

This car­ried on as the DVD movie for­mat hit the UK, by which time Blockbuster had al­ready em­braced the rental of the games con­soles of the day and the ti­tles that went with them. The firm ce­mented this gam­ing line when in 2002 it pur­chased the Games­ta­tion chain.

DVD came to the UK in 1999 and ini­tial sales were low. That soon changed, and it crossed paths with VHS sales in 2003 when the lat­ter was on a firm down­ward spi­ral.

VHS had had its day by 2006, a time when DVD rentals were also slid­ing back­wards. Blockbuster cashed in its pop­corn in 2010 and filed for bank­ruptcy, 16 years af­ter its big­gest year, 1994, when it had en­joyed a mas­sive global pres­ence.

The next time you sit down to ‘Net­flix and chill’, re­mem­ber that it has not al­ways been this easy. Not only was the video store a walk or more likely a drive away, un­less you lived in one, but the time be­tween cin­ema re­leases and video rental re­lease was of­ten very, very long in­deed.

Blockbuster ac­tu­ally de­clined to buy Net­flix in 2000 for $50m, which is some­thing to con­sider if you think you’ve made a bad de­ci­sion in your life. And then go and watch Bill Mur­ray in Meat­balls.

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