Goodbye Video Rental, Hello Streaming

After 42 years of renting videos, Family Video is closing its doors for good. What does this have to do with streaming? A lot, actually.

On January 5, 2021, Family Video announced an end to its four-decades long run of video rentals. To its credit, it lasted 10 years longer than Blockbuster, Movie Gallery, and Hollywood Video. The iconic brick buildings with green and orange awning are a popular site in and around Michigan, where Solid Signal is headquartered. In the end, it wasn’t streaming that forced this iconic video rental chain to close its doors. The hole left by this video rental business can only be filled by streaming, but the business model needs to evolve.

Family Video is Closing…

…Due to current events. You don’t need me to spell it out for you, and I wouldn’t anyway. (We’re not that kind of blog.) In a letter to Family Video customers, company president Keith Hoogland cited a lack of foot traffic and new movie releases as reasons for the chain’s closing. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what caused both of those conditions.

In his letter, Hoogland describes the closing as “the end of an era.” It truly is. Family Video was more than just a video rental store for many Michiganders. (As well as people in 16 other states.) For them, Family Video was one of the few throwbacks to simpler times that managed to survive intact in the present day. The fact that the chain lasted so long is a testament to the power of this nostalgia.

I used to have a Family Video membership. Friday evening trips to rent movies were a weekly ritual I looked forward to. I canceled my membership for more than 13 years when I moved to the Metro Detroit area. Sure, there’s a Family Video location in nearby Livonia, but I’d been bitten by the streaming bug by then. Now, that same Livonia store is selling every movie, game, and even the fixtures. I can’t bring myself to go there to get anything.

Streaming on in 2021

Of course I’d say that. Everyone who reads this weekly feature knows that I love streaming. Well, the streaming owes a debt of gratitude to those old video rental stores. Since streaming has all but replaced brick-and-mortar video stores, its business model needs to evolve as well. So far, it’s not, particularly in the area of curated content. You’ll see what I mean.

Mrs. Buckler and I started watching the Jesse Stone series on Amazon Prime. It features Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone, a former Los Angeles cop turned small-town police chief. (It’s based off Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone book series.) We absolutely love the show, and we’re over the moon that Amazon has every episode. What we don’t like is having to pay for each episode. Shouldn’t our monthly membership fee cover that? Apparently not.

And speaking of curated content, I wish today’s streaming services operated more like a video rental store. Thanks to the popularity of Netflix’s Cobra Kai, I want to revisit all those great 1980s teen movies I loved so much as a kid. Too bad I’m limited to watching whatever is on that month… or paying extra to see something from the library. It would be great if my monthly subscription paid for access to a library of every movie ever made. It would be just like the well-stocked shelves at your local video store.

I have a feeling that my suggested changes to the streaming business model will fall on deaf ears. I won’t lose hope though. Streamers can be dreamers, too.

About the Author

Jake Buckler
Jake Buckler is a cord-cutter, consumer electronics geek, and Celtic folk music fan. Those qualities, and his writing experience, helped him land a copywriting gig at Signal Group, LLC. He also contributes to The Solid Signal Blog.