Blockbuster touts internet DVD rentals on local basis

DALLAS: Movie-rental goliath Blockbuster is leveraging its brand in communities across the country to introduce its new online DVD rental service.

DALLAS: Movie-rental goliath Blockbuster is leveraging its brand in communities across the country to introduce its new online DVD rental service.

Last year, the video-rental industry generated $8 billion in sales, with only $300 million from online services, said Karen Raskopf, SVP of corporate communications.

Blockbuster's first salvo of media relations is geared toward getting its 40 million customers comfortable with the idea of renting online, she added.

"We have a whole PR plan that goes beyond the initial launch," which was last Wednesday, she said. The launch included pushes with the Associated Press and USA Today.

Along with PR support from its lead firm, PainePR, Blockbuster will use its network of PR consultants who cover the top 40 markets to push local publicity for the service.

"Our PR consultant in Cincinnati is going to know the local media outlets a lot better than we will," said Raskopf.

The central message is that there is a new way to rent movies at Blockbuster. And while the company will find itself up against online rental leader Netflix, it is taking the model one step further by integrating online and in-store services. PR will highlight that Blockbuster members can return DVDs they rented online at stores, and vice versa.

Raskopf said online members would also receive coupons good for two free rentals at stores each month.

"We have 40 million households who rent from our stores," said Raskopf. "About 2 million people rent online [from other services] right now. It's still a pretty new concept to most people, so we're going to focus on educating our customers and the general public. We want to let people know that this is not an either-or option. They can have the best of both worlds."

The media, which love a good fight, have already positioned the story as a David and Goliath battle between Netflix and Blockbuster, much as they did when Netflix first hit the scene. Headlines from websites such as Motley Fool and CNN.com, among others, pointed to the rivalry. Netflix didn't return calls seeking comment.

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