Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Giving DVDs the (net) flix

Hello, my name is Petra and I haven't been to a video shop in seven months and 24 days.

I used to be a regular renter. Almost every Friday night I'd hit my local DVD shop looking for a fix. I'd gotten hooked on new releases as a kid back in the '80s – all my friends watched them, and they were cheap and easy to pick up anywhere in the suburbs. It was a habit that was hard to shake.

My casual weekend renting quickly turned into regular midweek renting. I was going through five, six videos at a time – sometimes eight if I went on “Super Tuesday” when they also threw in a box of Maltesers for an extra $1.

Soon I'd churned through all the new releases and had to move on to “recent releases” (which were actually just the new releases I'd already seen) and then “classics” (which were the recent releases I'd already seen).

"The budget section, my favourite! I hope 'Extreme Cheapskates' is in."

And then, as with all addictions, what began as fun started to feel like a chore.

The video shop I once saw as a wonderland filled with thousands of exciting movie choices I now realised was just a medium-sized room housing an unnecessary number of copies of “Big Momma's House”, and no decent documentaries.

Every time I went there to rent a particular film I would invariably discover it had been already checked out/lost in 1993 and never replaced/eaten/destroyed in a fire.

The words “overnight rental” no longer filled me with joyful anticipation, but with dread, knowing that in just 24 hours I would have to return to the shop or be punished with a late fee.

One night as I sped there in my pyjamas and ugg boots for the third time that week trying to make the 10pm return deadline, I thought “There has to be a better way”.

After seven months and 24 days in America, I now know there is.

It's called The Internet. You may have heard of it, it's pretty popular.

Now instead of trudging along to a shop to stare at a wall of empty DVD cases for half an hour thinking “How is that STILL a new release?”, I kick back on the couch with my laptop, fire up Netflix and play any movie I want, instantly.

"Don't click that honey, that's daddy's special playlist..."

Like those in-room movie systems you get in hotels, Netflix is an online video shop that gives its subscribers unlimited access to tens of thousands of films and TV shows for less than US $8 a month.

It's not yet available in Australia, but alternatives are springing up in its place: this week Google launched Play and YouTube Movies, offering streaming of new release films for around $2 to $4 each.

Online services like this are the reason why there are now virtually no video stores left in America.

The idea of renting a movie in person is so archaic to most Americans that satirical news website The Onion even did a mock television report on a “historic Blockbuster museum” in which actors dressed as Blockbuster employees demonstrate how movies were rented “in the past”.

“It's really amazing that people had to go through so much just to get a movie,” one awe-struck tourist says, snapping a photograph of the quaint DVD displays.

I look back on my video-renting days in Australia and feel the same way. My dust-covered DVD player's days are definitely numbered. I can almost hear my old VCR laughing from that box in the garage.


This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's TV Guide on May 6, 2012.


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