Blockbuster to Rent Movies on SD Cards, but Why?

Blockbuster is piloting a new movie-rental program that allows customers to load movies onto SD cards and play them back on mobile phones and TVs equipped with SD readers. The rentals cost $1.99.

SD Cards

Perhaps conceived as a one-up response to the unexpectedly popular RedBox movie kiosks, the SD-card rental stations are meant to address some of the age-old problems with DVD rentals—namely that they're easily damaged, and must be returned. With an SD rental, the user keeps the SD card, though the content contains DRM which sets a date of expiration. (Above, the taxonomy of SD cards; below, a Blockbuster SD kiosk.)

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The SD rentals are also meant to target online streaming, which is growing in popularity thanks largely to Netflix's Watch Instantly feature. Blockbuster is hoping that the better quality video contained on their SD cards will win streaming video customers back, but of course, you still have the inconvenience of traveling to a Blockbuster SD kiosk. Blockbuster also offers "on demand" viewing via its Web site, letting you download DRM'd movie rentals as opposed to streaming them. Still, renting even the crappiest of movies will cost you nearly the same as a whole month of movies on Netflix; this downloadable copy of Cranked High Voltage is $4.

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Other obstacles remain. Many phones use micro or mini SD cardslots, and don't take full-sized SD cards. Many TVs still aren't built to play video of SD media, and most laptops don't have them either, meaning that watching an SD video on the road means taking a long a USB card reader. Another problem: not everyone will enjoy the irony of driving somewhere to pick up a data-card the size of a postage stamp. Still, SD cards do represent a marked improvement over DVDs in durability and re-usability, so if they caught on it'd hardly be a step backwards for movie buffs.

The SD kiosks themselves will be built and operated by NCR corporation, in partnership with MOD Systems. Blockbuster already employs a network of NCR-build kiosks for autonomous DVD rental.

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14 Comments

  • Danny Hughes

    Blockbuster will never be fixed. They will whither away and die because they screwed over too many customers, and they now want to gouge what little remain while their competition offers a cheap, hassle-free alternative.

  • Jennifer Turnton

    Wow this is a brilliant idea. I am reading about it for the first time in my life but it has intrigued me a lot. First of all it would be very comfortable. You won't have to grab those big DVD's or CD's, go at home, insert it in your DVD player or computer. Just stick it in your mobile phone and it will work. Secondly you won't have to give it back to the shop. Data of expiration is very comfortable too. But unfortunately this service is not located in my town or in my country at all. I think that those ones are somewhere in the United States only. If it would be possible to use it in my country - I would grab the drag me to hell movie right now. It is a horror film and it will be a hit in 2010 for sure. Just thanks for the interesting article, it is always nice to read about such technical innovations. I will be waiting for this service to appear in my country too. Thanks one more time and I will be keeping an eye on your blog and waiting for more nice ones in the nearest future.

  • JJ Murphy

    A little harsh on Crank: High Voltage isn't it! You could have at least used Twilight!

    On a real business note, this is actually a smart move, but to little to late.
    1) SD cards are reusable in a lot of devices.
    2) They require very little power on portables to use, unlike a spinning dvd drive.
    3) The only computers you won't be able to watch these on essentially is an older mac, or some desktops.

    Again though, to little to late.

  • Eric Sarjeant

    Why not just stick them on DVD discs? They are cheap enough now that they are virtually disposable. Your model could be the same as Netflix, just return the disc to the kiosk when you're done with the rental and then you can checkout another movie. This virtually eliminates the two major problems of renting movies with Blockbuster - bad (unreadable) discs and lack of availability.

    Propriety hardware? SD cards that won't read on anything but some single-purpose set-top box? I've got a pile of expensive laptops and a really nice media center PC - I would be happy to use one of those and save some landfill somewhere.

    Of course, we have Netflix now and I would never dream of ever returning to Blockbuster again. If they had brought something along this line to market 5+ years ago it might have been something I would have seriously considered. This is an example of too little and too late.

    Of c

  • Anon Imous

    Alright, I'm going to clear a few things up for you. Firstly, I can only give you partial disclosure, because a lot of what I know is not public yet. I am young. I live in the surrounding area of Seattle, in which MOD systems is located. I have acquired some intimate knowledge of MOD systems.

    Firstly, these SD cards are only playable on the purpose built player, called a GreenPlay. I have access to them. They are small, extremely light white boxes with an SD slot in the front, and a few outputs on the back. There is power in, as well as a single USB port, plus a 3.5mm AV out, HDMI, and a LAN port. As of now, I believe the USB and LAN ports are unusable. The GUI is a green and white, very box-like setup. It is nice, but there is noticable lag. The settings menus are easy to navigate, but there aren't many options. It does output full HD over HDMI, but MOD does not currently have licenses for selling HD rentals, so all you can get is menus in HD. The price point for the GreenPlay has not been decided, but with the hardware in it (yes, I've seen the inside), I would say in the $75 to $100 price range.

    The same setup was previously placed in Eugene, Oregeon, in a Hollywood Video.

    However, the GreenPlay is not the only place you will be able to play it on. Most of the funding for this company is from Toshiba. MOD wowed them in the 2006-2008 range (I am not sure when), and Toshiba has been the main source of funds since then. Toshiba just confirmed that they will be putting the ability to play the SD cards in their 2011 HDTV lineups. These TVs are scheduled to be release after the 2010 holiday season, so don't get your hopes up.

    As an objective observer, I don't see MOD going very farther. There's internal conflict with staff (one of the main staff walked in one day, didn't talk to anyone, gathered all of his stuff in a banker's box, left, emailed saying he was taking a month vacation, then emailed a week later saying he quit), and bugs due partly to the stubbornness of staff.

    I hope this helps with understanding of the new system!

  • Dennis Case

    I have a Windows based gaming pc and high end notebook, a hackintosh desktop and hackintosh notebook and they all have SD readers so I guess I'm all set. I also use Netflix and stream movies to the computers and also my tv using the Roku player so I don't think I will be using the SD movie rental thing. Oh, and I also built an HTPC that is hooked up to my 50" tv that I also have an SD reader in but I only use that reader to slide show photos. I have so many machines because I own a computer store and build computers to sell.

  • David d

    Great. Let me know when Netflix or Redbox switch over. I used to love perusing Blockbuster years ago, but their price-point is insulting. Random access, better quality and faster load times would be great.
    PhotoBooth

  • Joshua Fuld

    Just another bad idea from a company that is clueless. Here is how you fix Blockbuster:

    There are thousands of Blockbuster stores around the world that have become dinosaurs. They focus on movie and game rentals and sell movies at full retail. I believe that by harnessing the power of the Blockbuster brand and the fact that they have excellent coverage nationally, Blockbuster stores and Blockbuster.com could easily become your favorite place to consume entertainment.

    1. Blockbuster.com is a very popular site. Yes it is not nearly as popular as Netflix, but that is not important. Blockbuster.com has a huge customer base and they need to revamp the system so that their customer base can purchase items at Blockbuster retail stores using their online account. How do they do this? Read on…
    2. Video kiosks (ala Jet Blue check in) should be set up in every store. Kiosks should be easy to use, have large screens and allow the customer to watch thousands of movie trailers, behind the scenes clips, as well as rent and purchase any item in the store. Users can log in to their Blockbuster.com accounts and pay using the credit card (or paypal) they have stored online, or they can pay at the register. The goal here is to combine the functionality and ease of shopping on the Internet with the instant gratification of having what you want right now.
    3. Kiosk will print out a receipt with a number. An employee will pick order and number will be called out. Employee will verify order vs receipt from kiosk. This is the same system chain restaurants use, like Green Cactus or Baja Fresh.
    4. Employee’s will pick all of the merchandise for the customer? How will this work? Blockbuster will remove all (or most) of the physical inventory from the store and put it all behind the counter. Video games and movies take up very little room, and extra stock could be kept in a back room along with larger items, such as video game consoles and Tivos. Blockbuster could adjust their inventory so instead of having 50 copies of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, they could have two copies in stock and reorder when needed.
    5. What is Blockbuster going to do with all of the freed up space? I’m glad you asked. They are going to entertain you. All of the walls will be covered with large flat panel TVs that will broadcast Blockbuster News, a one-hour, daily review of everything going on in the world of movies, tv and video games. They will have video game consoles with the newest releases so that you can play them. You get the picture.
    6. Why would anyone use Netflix when there will be Blockbuster by Mail? If you already participate in Blockbuster’s all you can eat rental program, you will be given an envelope with your order at checkout to mail in your rentals. If you are not part of this program, for a small fee, you can buy an envelope. This will save you an annoying trip back to the store and Blockbuster gets a little extra change for making your life easier.
    7. What’s the best way to get more traffic into Blockbuster store? Cheap new releases. In order to get more traffic, Blockbuster should offer new release DVDs and Blu-rays at significant discount. This would be similar to Best Buy’s Tuesday flyer program, but the movie’s should be cheaper. This will establish Blockbuster as the place to get new movies. Why let Best Buy dominate? Once Blockbuster is getting more traffic, and people experience the new Blockbuster, they are more likely to sign up for the rental program.
    8. Have you ever been inside a Game Stop? It’s like going to a flea market. The employees try to push product on you that you don’t want and try to scare you into their pre-order program. Why would a person ever shop at a Game Stop when they could experience the new Blockbuster?
    9. Speaking of Game Stop, one way that Blockbuster could really increase their traffic is by setting up a used game program. Game Stop pays next to nothing for games. Why not offer a little more as well as special discount and reward programs for people who buy and sell used games. It seems like a no brainer.

    Blockbuster needs to transform itself from a place that rents movies to an entertainment destination where people come for their entertainment news and to fully immerse themselves in entertainment.

  • Darren Mason

    I'm on the go - didn't have time to download a movie at home or grab a DVD. Here's a kiosk that is renting movies for $1.99!!! SOLD - I'm in for some inexpensive and simple in flight entertainment.(Read carefully - their on demand website, not the kiosk rents "Crank" and other new releases for $4). As an Apple user, I have a tiny USB adapter which fits all SD cards and a few other formats as well.

    As far as the technology in general, I love this as an interim step until we're operating on 100% digital over the web technology. $2 rentals? When's the last time you actually turned your $1 per day Redbox rental in on time. Not too mention the stack you rented over the weekend and got too busy to watch? Ooops, your $1 rental just turned into a $3 or $4 rental.

  • Adam Feinsilver

    Great. Let me know when Netflix or Redbox switch over. I used to love perusing Blockbuster years ago, but their price-point is insulting. Random access, better quality and faster load times would be great.

    This seems like a$$-backwards thinking. Sell a $5 keychain memory card - throw in a fee movie rental, then charge $1 a movie. If you can keep screwballs from uploading a virus, all you need is a kiosk about the size of a mac-mini and a pretty sign.

    If I didn't have a DVD player with a USB port on the front, I'd also like a box that could play back to my TV (which doesn't have a MC slot). Offset the price with movie rentals.

  • Greg Steggerda

    Hmmm . . . feel bad for Jensen. I have a 3-year-old HP laptop, a new Asus netbook, a 2-year-old HTC phone and they all have SD readers, as does my desktop and my laser printer. SD is everywhere (except Apple-land, I guess, but that's understandable with their circle-the-wagons IP mentality) so I can see that choice. Agree that Blockbuster isn't going to get anywhere at that pricepoint and with what is really an aging technology. SD has already been around almost as long as 3.5" floppies were.

  • Thom Mitchell

    This initiative is yet another last gasp by a company that just can't accept technology has changed the rules of the game. Blockbuster is still locked into the same way of doing business and thinking that made them the king of VHS rentals. Until they change the way they approach their business by actually listening to customers - Blockbuster is doomed to lurch from next-new-thing to next-new-thing until they are disolved or acquired.

  • Jensen Gelfond

    Unfortunate that they chose this format. I have Macbook, iPhone, and brand-new 42" tv, and none of them have an SD reader on them. The pricing is also an unfortunate choice.

  • Zrcalos

    jensen. Sounds like you need to upgrade from mac! I'm aware this is old... but seriously brand new macs didnt have SD card readers in 2009??? I own 5 2006 win xp computers, all different, and they all have one. 

    wtf macintosh.