Netflix Greenlights ‘Blockbuster’ Video Store Comedy Series

Netflix has ordered the 10-episode series “Blockbuster,” an ensemble comedy about the last standing Blockbuster Video store, headlined by Korean actor Randall Park (The Interview).

Created by showrunner Vanessa Ramos (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), the workplace series aims to find laughs in a small business struggling to survive in an industry/market that has left it behind.

Randall Park

“To say getting to make a show about a place I love, with my friends Jackie and David, and Randall Park as our star is a dream come true, somehow feels like an understatement,” Ramos said in a media interview. “I could not be more grateful to [the] whole team at Netflix for being on board with so many weird jokes.”

Blockbuster Video, which once operated 9,000 stores, among other subsidiaries, filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Dish Network attempted to operate the remaining stores as an eventual retail footprint for cellular phones and wireless products. When that failed, the chain shut down, but there remains one last Blockbuster Video store standing in Bend, Ore., with the owner also renting out the store as a themed Airbnb.

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Of course the biggest joke is that Netflix is streaming an original series about an erstwhile competitor, from back before the SVOD behemoth transitioned from its pioneering by-mail DVD rental business model.

Netflix co-founders Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph in the late ’90s founded the company in part due to Hastings’ frustration with having to pay late fees for his Blockbuster movie rentals.

Soon after Netflix launched operations, Blockbuster rolled out its own by-mail disc rental platform — a move that so terrified Hastings & Co., they approached Blockbuster CEO Jim Antioco in 2000 about a possible merger. Hastings and former CFO Barry McCarthy were reportedly laughed out of Blockbuster’s corporate boardroom in Dallas.

As is well known, Hastings got the last laugh.

Netflix Streaming Blockbuster Video Doc a Boon to Last Standing Store

Netflix may have killed off Blockbuster Video, but a recent documentary on the streaming site about the legendary home video rental chain has been a boon to the last-standing branded store in the world located in Bend, Ore.

Netflix March 15 began streaming The Last Blockbuster, from filmmakers Taylor Morden and Zeke Kamm, who began their project in 2017 hoping the store would remain in business just long enough to see the finished documentary. The doc remained among Netflix’s top 10 streamed content for two weeks.

Store manager Sandi Harding in Netflix doc ‘The Last Blockbuster’

“For us to have some small part in helping the store stay open is amazing,” Morden told the Bend Bulletin. “Not a lot of documentaries actually accomplish the goal of their story.”

The Bend store began in 1992 as Pacific Video, with existing owners Ken and Debbie Tisher becoming an independent Blockbuster franchise in 2000 — the same year Netflix founders Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph offered to sell the their struggling by-mail disc rental company to Blockbuster for $50 million. Blockbuster, which at its peak had more than 9,000 stores as the largest video store in the world, turned them down.

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The rest is capitalism 101. Netflix soon turned the page on packaged media, co-creating the subscription streaming VOD market with a branded Roku player. Blockbuster ceased corporate operations in 2015, while Netflix ended 2020 with more than 200 million subscribers and $25 billion in revenue.

Bend Blockbuster store manager Sandi Harding isn’t dwelling on the past. Instead, she’s trying to keep up with the renewed consumer appeal among local residents and out-of-town visitors.

“It’s a little bit crazy, but it’s a very good thing,” said Harding. “We’ll take a little crazy if it means keeping the store open.”

Netflix to Stream ‘The Last Blockbuster’ Video Store Documentary

Netflix is set to stream documentary “The Last Blockbuster,” showcasing the last-standing Blockbuster Video store in the world located in Bend, Ore., the people who work there, still rent DVD movies, and industry people who supported the former 9,000-store franchise before it shuttered in 2014. The doc streams on Netflix, beginning March 15.

The license acquisition is not without irony as Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings in 1997 first launched the future SVOD titan as a ground-breaking by-mail DVD rental service after getting fed up paying Blockbuster late fees.

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Just three years later, Hastings and former CFO Barry McCarthy flew to Blockbuster’s corporate headquarters in Dallas hoping to sell the fiscally-challenged company for $50 million. They were laughed out of the company boardroom. And the rest is history.

“A lot of people know that Blockbuster had the chance to buy Netflix early on, and they passed on the opportunity,” reads the doc’s Facebook page. “In an ironic twist of fate, our movie The Last Blockbuster is coming to Netflix. We are beyond excited for people to get to see this tribute to an era of home video on the world’s largest streaming service. Just don’t forget to rewind it when you’re done watching it and bring it back by noon on Wednesday.”

The Last Blockbuster is currently available on Apple iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, FandangoNow, and Vudu, among other digital properties.

 

Netflix’s Reed Hastings: ‘Thank God’ Blockbuster Didn’t Buy Us

It’s hard to imagine that 20 years ago Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and then-CFO Barry McCarthy sat in the Dallas corporate headquarters of Blockbuster Video begging the video store giant to buy the upstart by-mail DVD rental service for $50 million.

As the story goes, Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and other executives practically laughed Hastings and McCarthy out of the building. Blockbuster at the the time was a $5 billion company operating about 9,000 video stores worldwide. Netflix, by comparison, was running TV spots with Ryan Seacrest pitching consumers the concept of DVD movies in the mail. Subscription streaming video-on-demand (and Roku) was still a pipedream.

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Of course, Hastings today is the one laughing as the once mighty Blockbuster brand has been reduced to a singular independent store moonlighting as an Airbnb in Bend, Ore. Hasting is also mindful that Netflix dodged a corporate crossroad that could have significantly changed his life as well as the modern home entertainment ecosystem as we know it.

“Well, now I say thank God that they didn’t want to go ahead [with the deal],” Hastings told Yahoo Finance plugging his co-authored book, “No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention,” during an episode of “Influencers With Andy Serwer,” a weekly series featuring business, political, and entertainment leaders. “But you know, at the time, [Blockbuster was] so formidable and even later, when we went public, we were $50 million in revenue, and they were $5 billion, so a hundred times larger than us.”

Indeed, had Blockbuster acquired Netflix, it likely would have rebranded the upstart by-mail disc business. The million-dollar question remains whether the Blockbuster brass would have been receptive to SVOD and its impact on video stores. If not, the subscription streaming video business model might have died on the vine; binge-viewing left to TV on DVD boxed sets; co-CEO Ted Sarandos overseeing Blockbuster video stores; and HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ or Peacock just science-fiction.

“For our first decade, [Blockbuster] was such a big gorilla over our future,” Hastings said. “It was a number of things that made it possible for us to thrive, and eventually then have the chance to move into streaming.”

Today, Netflix has more than 193 million paid subscribers worldwide, and a Wall Street market cap around $223.5 billion.

Media Mogul (and Blockbuster Video Owner) Sumner Redstone Dead at 97

Sumner Redstone, the hardnosed media titan who only recently (2016) relinquished the executive chairman position of National Amusements, the private corporate parent of ViacomCBS, died Aug. 11 at age 97. National Amusements disclosed Redstone’s death on Aug. 12.

Redstone, who had been in declining health for years, only recently (and reluctantly) ceded control of National Amusements to his daughter, Shari Redstone. Last December, Ms. Redstone successfully re-merged Viacom and CBS after a 13-year separation originally pushed for by her father, including installing former Viacom boss Bob Bakish as CEO of the combined companies.

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“My father led an extraordinary life that not only shaped entertainment as we know it today, but created an incredible family legacy,” Ms. Redstone said in a statement. “Through it all, we shared a great love for one another and he was a wonderful father, grandfather and great-grandfather. I am so proud to be his daughter and I will miss him always.”

Much media attention has been focused on Sumner Redstone’s rise from lawyer and successful drive-in theater owner/operator, to corporate owner of Paramount Pictures, publisher Simon & Schuster, Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, Showtime, Comedy Central and TV Land.

But he also played a key role in the home entertainment industry. The billionaire  saw the promise of Blockbuster Video — and home video’s cash flow — before most.

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Viacom acquired Blockbuster in 1994 for $8.4 billion to help finance its bid for Paramount from the studio’s boss and QVC founder Barry Diller.

“The only reason we got into [Blockbuster], we really needed the enormous cash flow [from the movie rental chain] to service the [Paramount] debt,” Redstone said in a media interview. “Strategically it made a lot of sense, and also we thought Blockbuster was a good business.”

Indeed, the brand became synonymous with home video, VHS and DVD — at its peak, operating more than 9,000 stores worldwide.

Redstone said Blockbuster over the years had its fiscal and management issues dealing with competitors, including eventually a small by-mail DVD rental service named Netflix. Redstone said Blockbuster’s issues in the beginning included not having enough hits available to rent, which left consumers with only catalog.

“Every video store was operating the same way,” he said. “Blockbuster tanked at one point [and] I tanked with it. Suddenly, I went from being brilliant to stupid.”

Redstone said he moved to Dallas (Blockbuster’s corporate headquarters), hired Jim Antioco as Blockbuster CEO, and together went to the studios in California to hammer out landmark revenue-sharing agreements for VHS rental titles.

“We buy tapes for $6, instead of $65. We sell them for more than we pay for them. It was a bonanza for Blockbuster and a bonanza for the studios,” he said. “So the Blockbuster story is pretty good.”

Redstone, in the interview, credited Antioco for pushing revenue sharing, which he said saved Blockbuster and Hollywood. Revenue-sharing allowed studios to share in rental revenues in return for discounted product costs.

“Without [home video], the studios don’t exist,” he said.

Redstone would eventually spin off Blockbuster with Antioco in charge, saddling the chain with about $1 billion in debt, from which it never fully recovered. Antioco, in turn, wouldn’t fully realize the rising threat of Netflix, including infamously turning down co-founder Reed Hastings’ offer to buy the upstart service for $100 million.

Netflix would then create (with Roku) the nascent subscription video-on-demand market, which Blockbuster never embraced until it was too late. The chain, along with major competitors Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery, would eventually cease operations.

Pandemic Challenges Last Standing Blockbuster Video Store

The last operating Blockbuster Video store in the world in Bend, Ore., has survived Netflix, over-the-top video and transactional VOD. Now it’s facing another challenge that has nothing to do with technology.

When Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on March 23 ordered social distancing measures statewide to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, Blockbuster was deemed non-essential and closed for a week.

Store GM Sandi Harding and the store’s 15 employees proactively addressed COVID-19 by instituting one-way aisles and mandatory six-feet spacing between customers allowed into the store.

Harding said that when the store became the last standing Blockbuster, it had about 6,000 customer accounts on top of tourists who frequent the place for nostalgia and history. Most of the store’s DVD/Blu-ray Disc rental customers live in the area.

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“We’re going to be here for a while, we’ve dealt with these kinds of challenges, not the coronavirus, but we’ve dealt with all kinds of things throughout this whole thing,” Harding told Fox Business. “Everybody knows our story, and we don’t give up easy. So we’re going to definitely go down with a fight like every other small business in America.”

Considering Blockbuster at one time had more than 9,000 stores, $1 billion in revenue and had Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings offering to sell Blockbuster his upstart by-mail disc rental company, the Bend store is a testament to small business survival.

“I just ordered in some floormats, you know, because right now we have blue tape down,” Harding said. “I mean, I love these kids that work for me and our customers and the whole reason we’re here is because, you know, these people enjoy coming to our store and I don’t want it to not be safe.”

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‘The Last Blockbuster’ Documentary Trailer Released

The trailer to the full-length documentary The Last Blockbuster has been released. The clip promotes the 40-minute film, which outlines the rise and fall of the world’s largest video store chain, and the last location’s struggles to stay in business in Bend, Ore.

A premiere is slated for May 8 at the Tower Theater in Bend, to be followed by an afterparty at the Blockbuster store.

Funded in 2018 by a Kickstarter crowd-source social media platform and distributed by Pop Motion Pictures, filmmaker Taylor Morden and producer Zeke Kamm sought to interview people who had worked for Blockbuster back when the chain had 9,000 stores and 80,000 employees worldwide, was synonymous with home video and seen as an insurmountable threat by an upstart by-mail DVD rental service named Netflix.

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Blockbuster, which was based in Dallas, filed for bankruptcy in 2010, its remaining 1,700 stores acquired by Dish Network. The satellite TV operator later disclosed it bought the chain largely for its retail footprint and a future mobile telecom business it has just now organized through the acquisition of Boost Mobile.

When the filmmakers began their project, several operating Blockbuster stores still existed, including in Bend where they lived. When the next-to-last store (in Alaska) shuttered, the rush to get the documentary completed took on a sense of urgency.

“I remember saying, ‘so many people have worked at Blockbuster, some of them must be hilarious, interesting, famous, whatever,'” Kamm told Comicbook.com.

The trailer features commentary from indie director Kevin Smith, former Blockbuster CFO Thomas Casey, Ione Sky, Eric Close, Jamie Kennedy, Adam Brody, Samm Levine and Doug Benson, among others.

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“If there’s some cats in Oregon still scratching it out with, you know, ‘be kind, rewind,’ nothing wrong with that. That’s beautiful,” Smith says on the trailer.

Details when the doc is released on DVD, Blu-ray Disc or even VHS, as some Kickstarter contributors have requested, has not been disclosed.

One Last Blockbuster Video Standing

With the closing of a Blockbuster Video branded store in Australia, the venerable home video rental chain has just one location left in the world — in Bend, Ore.

At its peak, Blockbuster Video was the world’s largest video store with more 9,000 locations globally with $6 billion in annual revenue. Last year, the last of three Blockbuster locations shuttered in Alaska — another retail casualty to changing consumer habits, subscription streaming video and digital retail.

It’s hard to imagine that at one time Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings offered to sell the upstart rental service to Blockbuster for $100 million, which the chain refused three (!) times — a corporate blunder on par with original Beatles drummer Pete Best exiting the Fab Four.

Netflix still rents DVD and Blu-ray Disc titles to a dwindling number of subscribers — 2.7 million — while generating operating profit of $51.4 million during the most-recent fiscal quarter.

Blockbuster, in its last year before declaring bankruptcy in 2010, generated just $120 million from its remaining 300 stores in the U.S. — while sitting on $1 billion in debt, the result of a spin-off by former corporate parent Viacom in 2004.

To Sandi Harding, GM of the 20-year-old Blockbuster in Bend, the brand’s history makes the store special.

“We all have a kinship with the other Blockbusters,” Harding told CNN. “You can go to Redbox and you can get the new titles, but they don’t have the older ones. Netflix and Amazon don’t have everything, either.”

Former Dish Network CEO Joe Clayton Dies

Consumer electronics industry veteran Joe Clayton died Nov. 3 of an unspecified illness at the age of 69. CEO of Dish Network from 2011 to until his retirement in 2015, Clayton headed the satellite TV operator when it acquired Blockbuster Video out of bankruptcy and launched online TV service Sling TV, among other achievements.

“Joe was a man of passion and vision whose influence on our industry is remarkable in its breadth and depth,” co-founder and chairman Charlie Ergen said in a statement.

Clayton, who helped bring shock DJ Howard Stern to Sirius Satellite radio in 2004, was inducted into the Consumer Technology Hall of Fame in 2008 and received the trade organization’s Digital Patriot Award in 2013.

“Joe was a strong and ethical leader — a lion of the industry, who was larger than life,” said Gary Shapiro, CEO of CTA. “He saw the future clearly and helped lead the industry in areas including direct broadcast satellite, HDTV, and satellite radio.”

Ergen said Clayton was a master marketer of CE brands that included RCA, DirecTV, Sirius and Dish.

“He mentored and influenced generations of leaders across our industry, including me. I am grateful for Joe’s leadership, his friendship and his generosity,” said Ergen.

 

 

Doc on ‘Last Blockbuster’ Video Store Completes Funding

Popmotion Pictures Sept. 4 announced that it has completely funded its latest documentary project, The Last Blockbuster, via Kickstarter.

The Last Blockbuster chronicles the rise and fall of Blockbuster Video, once the nation’s leading video rental chain — whose slogan, “Make it a Blockbuster Night,” has been ingrained in pop culture.

At its peak, Blockbuster Video had more than 9,000 video rental stores, most of them with huge rental cassette inventories and massive “walls” of new releases. The advent of DVD, which shifted consumer behavior from renting cassettes to buying discs, triggered the chain’s decline, as did the rise of Netflix, which originally rented movies by mail, thus eliminating the return trips that consumers in survey after survey said they hated almost as much as another characteristic of video rental stores, late fees.

Blockbuster began losing money in the 2000s, and in 2010 filed for bankruptcy protection from its creditors. In 2011, the 1,700 Blockbuster Video stores that remained were bought by Dish Network, only to be systematically shuttered over the ensuing years.

The documentary follows the chain’s troubled history all the way down to the last remaining operational Blockbuster Video store in the country, which is located in Bend, Oregon.

The production team has launched a trailer and Kickstarter campaign to help complete the documentary, which may be accessed here.

While the project is now completely funded, with just under two weeks remaining on the Kickstarter project, the team is going to use any additional funds to expand the project with additional special features “and ideally can raise enough money to preserve the last Blockbuster store for eternity (in virtual reality),” according to a news release.

“When we started working on this documentary last year there were about a dozen Blockbuster video locations still standing,” said director Taylor Morden. “Now, we’re down to just one. As movie lovers and physical media enthusiasts, we took it upon ourselves to uncover the story of why? What makes Bend, Oregon and this store in particular so special? It’s a fun and uplifting story and quite frankly we think the world needs more stories like that these days.”