At some point, you'll be driving around with your kids, and you’ll pass a retail store with a big blue ticket for a sign. You’ll then have to explain that the building once belonged to Blockbuster Video. Your fascinating Blockbuster stories will make them long for a time when one could walk up and down the aisles of a video store, imagining what each film was about while a vertical slice of What Lies Beneath plays on the store’s television. Then they'll go back to enjoying streaming services on their tablets.
Even though Blockbuster was a huge part of almost every millennial's life, there are probably still a bunch of things you didn't know about Blockbuster, the McDonald’s of the video rental world. Unless you were lucky enough to be one of their faithful employees, you probably never noticed all the behind-the-scenes work that went into creating the once ubiquitous chain.
Aside from the massive blue sign, the biggest thing that set Blockbuster apart from other video stores was the way they stocked their tapes. While most stores kept their cassettes behind the counter to prevent people from stealing them, Blockbuster organized them like a library.
This was a big deal; not only did it show customers which movies were available, but it also allowed them to peruse titles at their own pace. Since the company was taking a risk by leaving their tapes out for people to steal, their decision showed off that they were making megabucks in the rental game.
Before Netflix got into the streaming business, they exclusively sent out copies of physical DVDs. While they were doing pretty well, the company wasn't the dominant film distributor it is today. In the early 2000s, Netflix was worth about $50 million and offered Blockbuster the opportunity for a buyout.
Blockbuster passed and instead signed a contract to work with Enron Broadband on a demand video service. Enron Broadband went bankrupt within a year - a significant setback for Blockbuster - whereas Netflix continues to make all the money.
Blockbuster never rented out any type of rated-x adult films and, in 1991, the company struck a blow to the not-quite adult film industry when it announced it would no longer stock films rated NC-17 either.
At the time, a representative for Blockbuster told the Los Angeles Times, "We have always had a policy that we don't carry any movie that the Motion Picture Assn. of America rates X. When they revised the X rating, we said we would wait and see how they would use the new rating. But the criteria used for NC-17 was the same as the X."
You might think that Blockbuster made most of its money from renting new movies, but the company actually paid its bills with the late fees accrued when people didn't return their VHS rentals on time. In 2000, Blockbuster made 16% of its total revenue from those fees.
At the time, that amounted to $800 million. Man, those late fees add up.