Saturday 19 October 2019

Gemma Fullam: In planet of apps, couch potatoes will finally kill off movie stores

Why a few clicks on a computer is so much easier than renting a DVD from a shop

Gemma Fullam

Hatching hens is what my granny would have called us and indeed she would have been right. It's a little over three years since my boyfriend and I started dating and back then, our Saturday evening phone conversations would end with him reminding me to "bring a movie" for later, as staying in was – and still is – our going out.

If an old classic or a subtitled flick was mooted, I'd stop off at the local movie store, and if the blockbuster mood was upon us, Xtra-vision got my custom.

Fast-forward to today: our hatching tendencies intact, we still while away a Saturday night with a film, but the local movie store has long since closed and I haven't darkened Xtra-vision's door in well over a year. In this, it seems I'm not alone: the company is still profitable, thanks to the retail element, but the long-term outlook, in its present incarnation at least, is bleak. It transpires that nobody anticipated quite how quickly the movie-rental market would go into free-fall.

To my mind, the decline of Xtra-vision has been accelerated by three things: iTunes, Netflix and the path of least resistance.

I may be outside the normal demographic in that I don't own a TV, but cathode-ray tube ownership aside, I still like to wallow in the odd bit of visual trash – he favours documentaries and we both enjoy a movie. These days, you don't need a TV – or a DVD player – to access any of this, and you certainly don't need a movie store; all you need is a computer and a couple of apps.

If I want the latest movie release, I go to the iTunes app. If it's a nostalgia trip I'm after or an episode of something that once graced the TV schedules, I choose Netflix.

Admittedly, both have their flaws. Netflix has issues with streaming quality and there's an awful lot of stuff on it you would never, ever, want to watch but it's €6.99 a month: a no-brainer.

iTunes is something of an anomaly in the Apple stable as it's not particularly user-friendly.

It has a sneaky feature in that the default setting for all films is high definition; standard definition, which is a whole euro cheaper, has to be manually selected, and often there's that 'doh!' moment after you've hit 'buy film', as the realisation dawns that, once again, you're in HD, baby. Trainspotter types may argue that the HD experience is worth it, but I'd rather have the euro, thank you.

Annoyingly (or cleverly, if you're in the Apple camp), some of iTunes' films are only available to buy, not rent – I grudgingly paid €13.99 for Moonrise Kingdom, which, as it happened, turned out to be excellent, but, really, storing downloaded movies is OCD territory. You just don't.

I have since discovered I could have bought the same DVD from Xtra-vision's website for €9.99 – it has no streaming facility – but postage would have cost me another €2, and as the entire process would have involved several mouse clicks (the effort!), inputting my credit card information and waiting a couple of days for the movie to arrive via snail mail, this was never a viable option.

Back to the vagaries of iTunes. I haven't even mentioned the rubbish search engine, or the featureless buttons that make the site difficult to navigate, but despite everything, both iTunes and Netflix hold the trump card of the 21st Century movie-rental game: at no point in the process do you have to get up off your backside. It's the aforementioned path of least resistance; the sloth factor, if you will.

There's no getting in the car, no driving downtown, no finding a parking spot, no walking to the store, no queueing to pay and – here's the other crucial bit – no fine. If I got back all the Xtra-vision fine money I've paid out over the years, I could finance my own celluloid effort – quite possibly even one with a Tom Cruise cameo.

The decline of the DVD rental has also been laid at the feet of the illegal download. However, aside from tech-savvy students or nerdy types, I don't know a single individual who has ever done this successfully. I admit to having dipped my toe in the illegal-downloading waters, but my attempts have all ended in miserable failure.

The nearest I've come to cyber-piracy is watching zeitgeisty Nineties drama This Life in 10-minute clips on YouTube, but somehow I don't think that qualifies.

In any case, the inexorable rise of the app and the human penchant for inertia could well hammer home the final nails in the movie stores' coffin.

For me, though, there has been an extra, unexpected upside to the death of the DVD. What I used to do alone, we now do together, on the couch.

Irish Independent

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