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Movie Rental Industry Continues to Evolve

Balancing the Needs between VHS and DVD

DVDs may be gaining in popularity, but VHS is going to be around for a while. So convinced of this is Power Video owner Edward Dent (Chip) that he has a sign in the front of the store recommending to customers that they buy multimedia players so that they can take advantage of both types.

While it is rumored that some of the chain stores may soon stop renting VHS tapes, Dent is committed to carrying both types of media for the foreseeable future.

It appears that even those who haven't opted for the multimedia players are already supporting both types of media by maintaining both a VCR and DVD player at home. Carrie Leveridge said that she still uses both. While her children like the special features that DVDs have, she said that she still uses VHS tapes for the VCR player in her bedroom. Sasmita Dastidar uses both; for herself she likes the DVDs. However, she gets the VHS tapes for her children because they are less expensive; the VCR player is also easier for her young daughter to use.

Julian Coker, who helps maintain the shelves at Power Video, said, "It depends on what movie they want [as to whether they get VHS or DVD]."

Many of the older movies aren't yet available on DVD, although more and more of the classics are being produced on DVD every week. Power Video manager Patty Biniek said that she works with three major distributors and that she orders additional classic titles on DVD every week.

"We have the largest selection of titles in the area," she said.

WHEN BINIEK STARTED working at Power Video in 1988, the store rented Beta and VHS tapes. Beta tapes were phased out in the early ‘80s, leaving VHS as the sole media for several years. DVD players started appearing in the late ‘90s, and she started ordering DVDs in 1998.

"We were one of the first places to get them," said Biniek, who started ordering a few every month. When they started to gain in popularity, she already had a good supply of them.

"I just knew that it was going to be the up and coming thing, plus customers were asking for it," she said.

At Power Video, the ratio of VHS to DVDs for new releases is 50/50; catalog titles (older movies) are running 65-percent VHS and 35-percent DVD. Industry figures show that this 65/35 split reflected the rental format shares for all titles in 2002, but considering that DVD rentals doubled from 2001 to 2002, the numbers at the end of 2003 should be higher.

"DVDs will continue to grow, but we will see the formats co-existing for quite awhile," said Biniek.

Casey Bloyer has been working at Power Video for years and said, "I can remember when we used to have a half-shelf for DVDS; it seems like we're constantly updating DVDs now."

While DVD may be state-of-the-art, they do represent certain challenges. Take the aspect of displaying: While VHS tapes can stand on their own, DVDs will quickly topple over if displayed upright. Power Video has a bigger problem than the chain stores because it doesn’t use so-called dummy boxes, those boxes that hold the place of the movie, even when they are all rented.

"We tried them, but people didn't like them," said Biniek.

The best vehicle that Biniek has found to date are plastic, slanted holders that allow the DVDs to be slid into on an angle.

DVDs are also more fragile and scratch easily. Biniek said that there are machines to repair seriously damaged DVDs, and a DVD repair kit is available for sale at Power Video.

Another problem is the center release that holds the DVD in the case. While most are loose enough that a user doesn't do damage if he doesn’t release it correctly, Tara Perez said that the “Sex and the City” series had a center button that was tighter than most. Users tried to pull them out by the edges, causing many damaged copies.

FOR THE MOST PART, Biniek said that the customers are very good. With a database of more than 10,000 titles, she said that most people return their videos on time and in good condition.

"People are good about returning, and it's much easier now that they don't have to return movies until close of business."

Power Video has been a popular place for entertainment, even during difficult times. After people recovered from the shock of 9-11, they came to the store in droves.

"I think every comedy and family movie rented. People wanted to get away from it all," said Biniek.

Likewise, the sniper case one year ago October didn't hurt their business. While customers rushed in and out of the store, they did come to get their movies. The same thing was true when the Iraq War started. After people got tired of watching the coverage, they turned to the movie store. The snowstorms didn't keep people away, either. Fortunately, assistant manager Karol Rasanen lives across the street, so there was always somebody to let them in.

"We've never had to close for weather," said Biniek, who waived the late fees during the bad weather.

Power Video tries to give back to the community as much as possible. Biniek said that it uses students from the Pulley Center to work in the store. They also sponsor food drives for United Community Ministries (UCM) and a school supply drive for Belle View School.

"It's my neighborhood, it's important to me," said Biniek. She knows many of the customers by name and has watched their children grow up.

Lately, Power Video has many more movies for sale (both VHS and DVD). This is due partly to the fact that it is selling movies from its Fairfax location, which closed recently. It also has to do with the fact that more and more movies are available to the rental companies as sell-throughs. In the past, rental stores had to pay high prices ($70-$80) for the rental copies that were available before less expensive versions were sold in the stores. Now many companies are electing to make more labels available to stores the same time as the rental companies. This means that a movie pays for itself much quicker and can be pulled for sale earlier than before.

While the increase of sell-throughs means that Power Video can purchase copies at the lower prices, it also means that the movies are immediately available in the stores for sale, not just at the rental companies. So far, however, it hasn't affected business too much.

"Some people just don't want to own," said Biniek. "They want to watch it once."

Power Video is located at 1628-A Belle View Blvd. It can be reached at 703-768-2877.