Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Redbox vs. Red Envelope, or What Happens When the Infinite Aisle Swings through the Grocery Store

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Redbox vs. Red Envelope, or What Happens When the Infinite Aisle Swings through the Grocery Store

Article excerpt

Résumé: La recherche académique récente ainsi que les analystes de l'industrie ont mis l'accent sur le rôle de ce que Chris Anderson a appelé la « longue traîne » pour désigner une distribution qui donne un accès plus large à ce qui apparaît être une sélection illimitée de films, modèle qu'on associe à Netflix. Néanmoins, en dépit de l'accès à un catalogue plus vaste, plusieurs consommateurs des États-Unis semblent avoir opté pour Redbox, une chaîne de kiosques où l'on peut louer des films à bas prix à partir d'une sélection restreinte. Parce que Redbox a contribué à la transformation du système de location et de vente de films en DVD, cette entreprise représente un défi significatif auquel doivent faire face les studios dans leurs tentatives pour contrôler la consommation de DVD, faisant en sorte que ces derniers et les détaillants ont dû révaluer les potentiels de marché véritables lorsque les films deviennent disponibles sur de multiples supports, que ce soit en salle traditionnelle, sur DVD ou par la lecture vidéo en transit de données. Cet article défend l'idée que nous devons procéder à un examen plus attentif des pratiques, habitudes et technologies qui donnent forme à la distribution de films pour comprendre quelques pratiques plus prosaïques qui sont associées à la culture filmique de tous les jours.

Over the last decade, entertainment journalists and media executives have been anticipating the digital delivery of movies directly into the home, often with a mixture of excitement and concern. For example, Neu; York Times film critic A. O. Scott, remarking on the unlimited bandwidth that made storing and downloading movies inexpensive and easy, predicted that "before too long the entire surviving history of movies will be open for browsing and sampling at the click of a mouse for a few PayPal dollars."1 Although the digital delivery of movies seems to democratize access to a wide array of movies, it also threatens to disrupt some of the traditional ways in which studios have been able to produce revenue, especially after a film leaves theaters. Due to these changes, movie audiences seeking a night's entertainment face a variety of choices, both in terms of the sheer number of films available from so-called "long tail" services such as Netflix and iTunes and in terms of the variety of formats available to screen those films. Meanwhile, TV audiences, seemingly freed from the broadcast schedule, time-shift through online aggregators such as HuIu and iTunes, or through their DVRs, which have deepened a process established by VCRs and extended by box sets of TV shows.2 In this context, digital distribution becomes identified not only with ubiquitous access to movies and TV shows but also with unprecedented choice, both in terms of content and platform.

Despite these seemingly unlimited options, one of the most popular ways to rent movies for home viewing in the United States, Redbox, provides users with a much narrower selection of movies. At the same time, Redbox, like Netflix, helps to upset prevailing distribution patterns that have dominated more or less since the early days of home video. These changing rental practices bring into relief some of the challenges associated with digital distribution, specifically the attempt by distributors to control the consumption of movies and TV shows in order to be as profitable as possible.3 Thus, rather than focusing on the rhetoric of consumer choice, this essay seeks to make sense of the ways in which the practices of movie distribution are being redefined, often in ways that may restrict, rather than open up, when and where a film is available. Underlying these changes is a transformation of the value of the film text itself. Due to the cheap rentals offered by Redbox and the inexpensive access to streaming video promoted by Netflix, the expected cost of watching a movie has begun to shift, especially for movies that may be viewed only once or twice and for viewers who may not be drawn to consume DVD special features or collecting physical DVDs. …

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