Earnest Pettie, comedy writer
Its been interesting working for Blockbuster during this deathmatch with Netflix. Five years ago, at my old Blockbuster in LA, customers would threaten to close their accounts and join Netflix, and no one would care. When I rejoined Blockbuster a year ago, I walked into a company that was quaking in its boots at the threat posed by the younger, swifter Netflix.
As an employee, my job consisted of getting as many customers signed up for Blockbuster’s competing service, Blockbuster Online–now called Blockbuster Total Access. I did not think Blockbuster would ever rally to compete with Netflix. Blockbuster’s user interface was outdated, and the service lacked the social niceties offered by Netflix. I went so far as to write a five page document on fixing the Blockbuster Online to compete with Netflix. Though I’m sure no one important ever saw my report, many of the things I outlined were introduced after Blockbuster revamped its online service’s website. Life was miserable for Blockbuster employees. Lacking the word-of-mouth that Netflix enjoyed, Blockbuster’s employees had to become the buzz, asking every single customer if they were interested in trying out the service. Blockbuster then did something I had not anticipated. They offered free in-store rentals for online customers who brought their video mailers into their local stores. Effectively, Blockbuster had all but eliminated the waiting period for its online customers. They could go directly to the store to get videos and still receive more in the mail.
Netflix quickly regrouped, allowing their customer the ability to stream movies to their computers, further shortening the gap between want and fulfillment. I can not stress just how important beating Netflix was to Blockbuster. We saw it as a triumph when Netflix announced its first-ever decrease in subscribers. The fight is not nearly won; Netflix still has the ability to strike fear into Blockbuster’s heart. Need proof? Yesterday, Blockbuster bought Movielink, one of the first movie download services to build a relationship with the big Hollywood studios. Netflix should take this as a compliment. In less than five years, it has eliminated all other video chains as Blockbuster’s chief rival, and now It can’t make a move without Blockbuster trembling, racing to catch up.