Let’s see if I can go a whole week without writing a blog post about level crossings.
Video shops are dead. For a while there was one (or more) in every suburb. Where I live now in Bentleigh there were at least two. Even Glenhuntly, where I lived in the late-90s, had two.
They were close enough that mostly, I could walk to them. M’s house in Footscray was the exception — the video shops around there dealt with the local migrant populations, and you had to go further afield to find English language movies (or even movies with English subtitles).
Over time the video shops ditched VHS and morphed into DVD shops. But in the last few years, almost all of them have closed, disappeared along with CRT non-widescreen analogue TVs. As with many industries, the internet is taking over.
Blockbuster was one of the biggest video shop chains — they now seem to have only four stores left in Melbourne. I’m not sure about Video Ezy — if the White Pages is accurate, they still have about a dozen stores. Any number of individual stores have vanished.
(From my observations, a surprising number of old video shops seem to have turned into fitness centres. Some kind of transformation from couch potato to gym junkie.)
For a while, DVDs by snail mail was the thing. It never caught on at my house. It’s just not the way we watch movies. Usually the decision to rent something is spontaneous. You need to go to a physical shop, or stream it. The other option I’ve tried is renting on iTunes. Unfortunately this isn’t streaming – downloading a movie in HD first can take ages – far longer than it would take to find one of the few remaining video shops.
Streaming video is good, the technology and infrastructure around it has matured, but none of the services are perfect — I’ve now sampled most them.
I used Presto ($9.99 per month for TV or movies, $14.99 for both) for about 6 months. It had a good range, but no HD, and is more expensive than the others if you want TV and movies.
Then I moved onto Netflix ($11.99 for HD). Good range, terrific apps (virtually every platform you can think of) and hooray for HD.
Then I tried Stan ($10, including HD). Good range, slightly clunky iPod app which looks like it should be able to use a cable to your TV, but can’t.
I haven’t tried Quickflix.
The problem with all of these is that the range is good but not brilliant. There were just far too many times I would think of a random movie, go looking for it, and discover it wasn’t available. Ditto with TV.
In a great discussion on the Talking Headways podcast from late 2014 (I’m working my way through the earlier episodes) they talk a bit about Netflix and other streaming services vs the old video shops, and come to the same conclusion: the range isn’t great. It’s probably more restricted than at many of the old video shops.
And even today, the biggest range of TV and movies is at your local JB Hifi store… as long as you’re prepared to buy, not rent.
At the moment I am without a streaming service — we’ve got a few of those old-fashioned DVDs to watch. But I have slowed down DVD/Blu-ray purchases. Barring Star Wars: Force Awakens (out on Wednesday), I’m not planning to splurge on any more discs for now, so I may get back to streaming again soon.
Which one? Depends what I want to watch. I have found these web sites which let you search their databases to see what’s available, without being a member:
These are useful tools, but I’m amused that Finder’s intro text talks about Game Of Thrones, which isn’t available on any of the services they compare.
It seems the streaming rights to that are locked up by HBO for their streaming service… which is only available in the USA. Sigh. Given the range of programming they’ve got, I reckon if they were to launch in Australia, they’d get a lot of happy subscribers.
That’s perhaps the biggest problem with the current streaming services — the content owners have much greater control over what each service can offer, so unlike those old video shops, whole ranges of movies from particular studios are just completely missing. “The long tail” was meant to solve this, but other factors have come into play.