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Surviving against the odds

Carterton Video Store manager Tara Apperley and owner Tony Allen love supporting local. PHOTO/ JADE CVETKOV

Streaming can’t kill the DVD store
With most brick and mortar video rental services going the way of the dodo, Wairarapa is one of the last bastions of a classic movie night at home. CAL ROBERTS reports.

Friday night fish’n’chips and a movie from the video store – that’s how it went for many Kiwi families in the 90s.

Nowadays, streaming services Netflix, Neon, and Lightbox have disrupted that household tradition, offering instant viewing of new and old favourites from your couch.

In the United States, legendary video chain store Blockbuster has gone from 9000 sites in 2004 to just one last week.

But for Wairarapa at least, video rental stores endure.

United Video Masterton manager Lindsay Ellis. PHOTO/ CAL ROBERTS

Lindsay Ellis has been renting out movies since 1998, and while acknowledging that “most people have a variety of entertainment options” in the 21st century, “most of them also have memberships here”.

Some customers did not come in as regularly as they used to, but a few regulars started to rent movies 20 years ago, “and I’ve seen them every week since”.

“They like to come in and have a yarn and get a movie as part of the getting-out-of-the-house routine.”

Ellis said the store had diversified to keep people coming in by expanding its confectionery range and displaying clothing his wife imported from Fiji.

“It all adds to it.”

He said families came in regularly along with a lot of retired folks who were less computer savvy.

Ellis said no one thing was responsible for the business’ longevity.

“Good service, good display, listen to what people have to say. If you do that, people in an area like Wairarapa are very loyal and will keep coming back.”

The owner of Carterton’s video store, Tony Allen, said it housed four times as many movies as Netflix offered New Zealand customers at any one time.

Carterton Video Store owner Tony Allen and manager Tara Apperley. PHOTO/ JADE CVETKOV

He’s been renting movies to customers for 11 years and sees the likes of Netflix as just one more competitor.

“The medium has changed.”

Allen said “the writing was on the wall six years ago” that his business would need to diversify.

In the same building today is Carterton’s post office, a gluten-free grocery and engraving business.

But it is still signing up new customers, “we signed up three yesterday”.

“It’s often an older demographic now.”

Store manager Tara Apperley said young families would often visit during school holidays too.

She recognised customers who had been with them since she started 11 years ago, and had watched their kids grow up.

“We still get the broad spectrum of movies to cater to the broad spectrum of customers that we have.”

Senior media studies lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington Dr Peter Thompson is keen to dispel the myth that digital media is infinite in its variety.

“In a sense, we’ve fetishised these online services as being a digital cornucopia that provide everything to everybody.

“Fundamentally, the range of content that’s available through Netflix, Lightbox and Neon is arguably less diverse than the range that you might find in a specialist video store.”

He said demographics played a key role in the survival of traditional video stores.

“If you’ve got a demographic that is slightly older, then they may well still be hanging on to their DVD players and quite happy to use those in lieu of using the new online streaming services such as Netflix or Lightbox.”

Thompson said the capacity of broadband in an area was also a determining factor.

“If you go back to the days when everyone was on copper cable and had data caps, there was no way to stream movies on a regular basis without eating your data cap up in a couple of days.

“Or without sitting there and gnashing your teeth as you were buffering every five seconds because the bandwidth wasn’t sufficient to stream a high-quality video.”

He said there may be a stronger level of what he called “embeddedness” between businesses in smaller communities.

“Knowing the video store owner, popping in for a chat – there may be a stronger sense that they are part of the community and there is a stronger desire to support them.”

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