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From Blockbuster to Netflix: How Has Watching New Movie Releases Changed Over Time?

Posted on April 25, 2022 in Streaming

Do you remember the nights you would browse the variety of VHS or DVD in Blockbuster or other video shops? It was almost a magical experience knowing that watching the film you had waited to watch will be on your screen that day.

These days though it is all so different, with one click you can be in front of an unlimited supply of movies all ready to stream through your TV, tablet, laptop, or console. Broadband at home has helped bring the world of entertainment to your front door with minimal effort.

Let’s go take a walk down memory lane by looking at how the world of watching films has changed and will continue to develop.

Before we had video shops we relied on TV

The first cinema hit the UK in 1896 and short films were enjoyed by those that could afford this new form of entertainment. However, by 1937, feature films were coming to TV screens. The 1935 production, “The Last of The Clintons” was the first to be broadcast and hit the screens in August of ’37. It wasn’t until 1938 that a few more cinematic masterpieces appeared on the screen with a groundbreaking 6 films shown on TV.

In 1939 we saw four feature films hit our small screens but then the breakout of war put an end to this run. With video players still a further 30 years away, the wait for films to move from silver screen to home TV screen was one eagerly anticipated by families. As time progressed, more and more made for TV movies were being released, often cheaper to make but saturating the public desire for action, romance, and drama.

By the 1970’s with the cinema going public increasing in number, the gap between films leaving the movie theatre and coming into the home was increasing. Cinema owners and film companies being fully aware of the money that could be made.

The emergence of VHS video rental

In 1976 the VCR was unleashed on the world and allowed viewers to record TV shows and watch back when they wanted. Despite this innovation, the film companies were slow to act.  It wasn’t until a year later that a man called Andre Blay presented the idea of putting films onto tape. Twentieth Century Fox then licenssed 50 films for release on VHS and Betamax. A clever American entrepreneur then saw an opportunity and bought one VHS and one Betamax copy of each and began renting them out to people. Charging them $50 for a year’s membership and then $10 per day for the film – and you though Netflix was expensive. The success was almost instant and several independent stores operating the same setup soon formed.

People were now enjoying films at their leisure. It wasn’t without controversy though and Disney along with a few others tried to limit the potential for rentals by going to court. They said it breached copyright by having films being allowed for rent. They lost their case and then things went much bigger.

The arrival of Blockbuster

The independent stores were proving hugely popular and in 1985, Blockbuster arrived, launching its first store in Texas. The success allowed it to build up a large stock very quickly allowing for exponential store growth. Similar brands followed suit, but nothing made the impact Blockbuster did. Every town, more or less, would have a Blockbuster. Making a film night a treat night, a trip to Blockbuster was almost like a trip to the cinema. You could stock up on popcorn and drinks, pick your film and enjoy it at home. Turn the lights down and the sound up-then a mini cinema at a fraction of the cost is ready to go.

As tapes were overtaken by DVDs the way to watch films at home remained the same. Rental stores just adapted and allowed people to rent the discs whilst still allowing the lending of video tapes. Gradually the tapes disappeared, and DVD became the market leader in the ways films were consumed.

Soon though, with satellite TV increasing in popularity and operating on a subscription-based structure, standalone movie channels were popping up. With their huge financial resources, companies like Sky were seeing that films were gradually coming to TV quicker than before.

The collapse of Blockbuster and the rise of the internet

Whilst popular, and pretty much the only way to watch the latest releases for most of the public Blockbuster and other rental stores were largely slated for their fees and penalty charges. Figures show that they took $800m in fines in 2000! The initial boom being followed by the inevitable bust.

Prior to this stunning figure being announced, a wiley businessman saw opportunity and set the wheels in motion for something that would eventually change everything for home film consumption.

In 1997 Reed Hastings created Netflix, allowing people to rent DVDs via mail order and return them when done. Rather than pay for a film, they simply paid a membership fee. Five years later the UK caught on and a team of entrepreneurs set up Love Film which would eventually turn into Amazon Instant Video.

Moving from in the post to on-line

As technology developed at a rapid pace the ability to stream on demand rather than rent for a short time changed how people watch. For monthly fees an almost unlimited stack of films was nestled in with popular series and documentaries. This led to the collapse of pretty much all rental stores and to a larger extent chains like HMV. People just weren’t buying films to keep anymore.

Watching films during Covid

The outbreak of Covid-19 meant a total shutdown of cinemas, this led to many films being held back but the studios had already spent the money. This prompted instant release on platforms like Disney+, Amazon Prime, or Netflix. Whereas in the past films going straight to home release was a sign of a poor movie, now it was both a necessity for the studio but also for the consumer.

Figures show that several films generated more revenue via such services than their predecessors did in the cinemas. This has led many studios to consider this as a way of release going forward.

So as of today, we can consume films via multiple streaming platforms, at a much sooner release date than in years gone by.  Facebook marketplace and car boot sales are now stacked with people selling DVDs. The excitement of watching new films is still there, the way we do it has changed. How will it change next?

If you enjoy watching films at home, make sure your broadband is hyperfast broadband, this way you can enjoy seamless viewing with 900mbps speed! Contact the Digital Home team today to see if we can get you connected. Fast!

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