Blockbuster: The End Of The Line

Friday, March 14 2014
Blockbuster: The End Of The Line

I worked for Blockbuster for more than 13 years, the majority of my working life – starting in a small store in the Midlands before working my way up to head office. I was there through both the good times and the bad.

Like many people who later worked for me, Blockbuster was a way of life – my dream job. I actually took a pay cut and moved to London back in 2002 to work at the support centre because I was so impassioned about what I could do with the brand.

I got my job by sending a PPT to head office – of all the things that I would do if given the chance to work in online. I still have this list (done most of the list… plus dozens more projects). This got me an interview and the rest, as they say is history.

Among the things I really liked about Blockbuster was that every week was different – driven by new movies and games; a benefit of working in this fantastic but rather incestuous industry (the same amazing faces pop up again and again – we all know it’s true).

But when I think back at my time at Blockbuster, I suppose the thing that really stands out was the people. There were so many characters in so many departments. All with their quirks. But also fantastic people to spend time with.

Highlights at Blockbuster, I have to say my team, first and foremost. From Adam, to James, to James 2 (sorry James) and Rebecca – I had a small team (especially in 2013!) working together – focused on innovation and bringing Blockbuster kicking and screaming into the new millennium.

It was a rollercoaster – in my time in online, I saw the launch of By Post, the mothballing of By Post, the revival of By Post (and rapid growth in 2013 of By Post). The growth of the Online Store. The closure of the Online Store. The reopening of the Online Store, along with many other initiatives. And in between I met many celebrities, went to lots of Blockbuster and industry shindigs (Team America party anyone? The Timecode party?) and watched a hell of a lot of movies.

There were laughs, cries, frustrations… but all focused on making Blockbuster a success.

It’s a shame that we hadn’t launched digital – the plans were advanced, I’m probably still sworn to secrecy but they would have been absolutely fantastic – I have no doubt that if allowed to have continued, we would have given the likes of blinkbox a run for its money.

Finally, and without dwelling on what has taken place, it’s a shame that Blockbuster hadn’t been allowed to continue. There was still a great deal of life in the brand and rental on the UK high street.

The new Blockbuster loyalty scheme – VIP Rewards – saw more than 70,000 people join in the first 10 days, online was also performing very well. The business had nearly doubled since exiting administration the first time.

Just weeks before the business was canned, some of our store partner promotions kicked in and started bringing in thousands of lapsed customers (store partnerships were also managed by my overworked team).

Blockbuster had over 200,000 followers on Facebook (the page was deleted by the administrators at some point in the days after I left the business). There were plenty of customers who expected Blockbuster to be part of their every day life.

The point is, that these are hardly signs of a brand that was dead. A turnaround was very possible, if given some more time and imagination / willingness to try new things.

The loss of Blockbuster will impact the whole industry. People that rent, buy far more movies than those that don’t. For the Blockbuster customers, if they were interested in By Post or digital, they would have left years ago.

Millions did leave Blockbuster in the years before administration. However millions more stayed loyal.

Unfortunately for all of us, the remaining Blockbuster customers are likely to just drop out of the home entertainment space completely – isolated from the advances of technology and drawn to digital TV and other things. Blockbuster would have been a bridge between the past and the future.

The loss of Blockbuster is a loss for us all.

RIP Blockbuster®

Malachi Simons
Former head of online, blockbuster.co.uk

(The picture below is a look at how the Blockbuster app would have looked on the Xbox homepage, rarely seen outside of head office, and, as Simons says “an exciting example of what the future was going to hold for the brand”.)

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