Someday you may be telling your kids about Eckhard Baum.
Don’t know the name? Well, he started a revolution in the entertainment business. In the summer of 1975, in the city of Kassel in what used to be West Germany, Baum opened the first store that rented out copies of movies for private use. He started with Super 8 film, then graduated to videotapes, and later, to DVDs.
The video store heyday has come and gone, but at nearly 80 years old, Eckhard Baum is still at it, still operating his Videothek in Germany, and saying he’ll keep doing so as long as he is alive.
If your kids are wondering about what exactly, um, a video store IS, you can save time trying to explain to them what it used to take to get a movie by showing them this – don’t worry, it’s on YouTube so they’ll get it:
Back in the day, the United States trailed Germany when it came to video rentals, but not by much. George Atkinson opened the first store in America in December 1977 at 12011 Wilshire Boulevard, in (where else) L.A. He offered all his initial titles in glorious Beta and VHS formats—and all with the novel idea of being available for rent.
The 80’s were just around the corner, and with them came the explosive growth of video rental chains like West Coast Video, RoadRunner Video, Rogers Video, and the ubiquitous Blockbuster Video: companies that would soon seem to be a permanent part of the American landscape.
There were not only more than 15,000 video rental stores at the peak of this trend but many record, grocery, drug, and other stores rented out tapes too, mostly VHS. The unfortunate Betamax owner was sure to suffer derision as soon as they admitted their purchase, despite the fact that most high-end video production experts agreed that Beta was in fact better, with higher resolution and less video noise.
When VHS ruled, it was at the epicenter of a Saturday night tradition: trek down to the rental store to see what was newly released, plunk down your cash and your membership card, pay off your late charges from last time—it was always more fun and easier to rent than return– and off you went. Picking up carryout pizza and a 2 liter of soda or 6-pack of your favorite libation were the next stops.
People got used to watching more movies at home. This basic ritual continued for a long time—even past the time of widespread VHS. As technology marched on, video stores adapted. They added game rentals, and when the DVD revolution kicked in, most everyone was happy to purchase their DVD players and watch their movies in higher fidelity. Plus, there were no “Be Kind, Rewind” stickers.
DVD players offered great resolution, and, unlike VHS tapes, DVDs didn’t really wear out. It was a new digital world. Some people who had hesitated to hoard a library of bulky video tapes embraced the new format, and millions of DVDs began to be sold. They seemed more… permanent.
But even home libraries did not spell the end of the video store. The next big thing was being touted by manufacturers Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Thomson, LG Electronics, Hitachi, Sharp, and Samsung: they formed a consortium and backed the new Blu-ray Disc format. And wow, Blu-ray really did look good!
But about the same time, streaming was getting better and better.
What’s that? I can watch a movie on demand right now on my TV without having to buy a disc or run out to the rental place? I don’t like that buffering delay thing, but wow! This is neat… and EASY!
How much has the tide turned?
Think about this: when was the last time you watched a Blu-ray disc? And even if you have recently, how does that compare with how often you are streaming your entertainment? Due in large part to its failure to get on the Netflix on-demand mailing, and then streaming bandwagon fast enough, Blockbuster has gone the way of the dinosaurs, along with many other video rental chains we thought would be around forever. Time and technology wait for no one, and failure to adapt and move with the times can make it difficult to stay in business.
Even though on-demand remote viewing is still not perfect, it’s a streaming world right now. That world is accessible with a couple of mouse or remote clicks, and is available from your home, tablet, or even on your phone. It’s much easier than your alphabetized library of DVD classics.
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