Blockbuster fate serves as a warning to Netflix

The news that video store chain Blockbuster has filed for bankruptcy is neither surprising nor unexpected, but for someone who grew up in the 1980s it is regrettable.

The news that video store chain Blockbuster has filed for bankruptcy is neither surprising nor unexpected, but for someone who grew up in the 1980s it is regrettable.

I can remember the childlike excitement of scouring these wonderful shiny new stores for movies old and new when the video revolution really took hold. It seemed as though there was a Blockbuster on every corner and the scale of some of the physical stores was enormous. Most weekends featured a trip to Blockbuster pick up a couple of films.

But brands are fragile and transient things and they have to constantly evolve – otherwise they go backwards. Just as the traditional music industry failed to move with the times and allowed companies such as Apple to monopolize the digital music marketplace, Blockbuster also took its eye off the reel and allowed newcomers such as Netflix to establish themselves as the go-to supplier of movie fare via direct-to-home distribution and digital channels.

Netflix has had its own communications problems recently, but in general it has handled its development and growth impeccably. It is incredible how difficult it is to shift a negative momentum once it gains traction. And Netflix benefited from the fact that Blockbuster just wasn't in touch with the zeitgeist anymore.

Netflix is living the dream at the moment and riding the crest of a wave, with its shares at an all-time high. But the unfortunate comments of its CEO about Americans being “too self-absorbed” to recognize they are paying more than Canadians for the same service serves as a warning shot not to be complacent. The fate of the once-mighty Blockbuster proves that constant vigilance and smart communications are required at all times to keep a brand on top of the pile.

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