Video rental shop makes a comeback in US

World Today

Video rental stores are almost a thing of the past. After peaking at 9,000 stores worldwide, the once mighty Blockbuster chain is now down to just one outlet.

But as CGTN’s Giles Gibson reports from the U.S. city of Baltimore, a group of movie fanatics are bringing back their local video store.

For today’s teenagers, video rental stores are ancient history. But the founders of the Beyond Video store in Baltimore in the U.S. state of Maryland believe we’re in danger of losing something special in the era of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

“People are really reigniting the pleasure of browsing with physical items and not staring at a screen, not hunched over, scrolling, clicking,” says Eric Hatch, one of the founders of Beyond Video. “There’s something that feels kind of deadening and stultifying about that experience, I think.”

Just six months after opening, the store now boasts a collection of more than 12,000 titles on VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray.

As video rental stores die out, the founders of this store say communities are losing access to film history and culture. They showcase directors from Charlie Chaplin to James Cameron.

“There’s a guy in Finland who sent us a bunch of Finnish movies,” says Hatch.

Customers pay a monthly subscription of up to $20 to rent new releases and carefully-curated classics, many of them donated from around the world.

In comparison, a premium subscription to Netflix costs just under $16 a month.

Observers say streaming services offer a user experience that’s faster and more intelligent than flipping through piles of DVDs.

“The power of data, machine-learning and AI has allowed companies like Netflix to tailor the content, to find content that every individual user will love, because their research and data shows that individuals watch really eclectic stuff. And that is the power of data, of AI and machine-learning, to create this content that is so delicious and personal to the user,” Blake Morgan, a customer experience futurist said.

Beyond Video is in a David versus Goliath fight, an independent store up against billion-dollar streaming giants.

“There are some older customers who clearly never felt like streaming was a legitimate replacement for the old school video store. But I’ve been really heartened by how many people in their early twenties – even college students have been coming in,” says Hatch.

That new generation means they’re confident video rental stores do have a future.