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Your Blockbuster movie download is just a drive away

Chairman and CEO James Keyes unveils an in-store kiosk he hopes consumers will use to download movies.

In the opening scene of The Player, Tim Robbins' character is meeting with writers who are pitching movie ideas they hope the Hollywood producer will agree to make. One idea is pitched to him as, "It's Pretty Woman meets Out of Africa, without stars."


Applying that Hollywood approach, the latest idea from Blockbuster can best be described as "Netflix meets YouTube, without the convenience." That's basically the pitch Blockbuster Chairman and CEO James Keyes made at his first annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday when he unveiled an in-store kiosk he hopes consumers will use to download movies.

The plan, as outlined by The Hollywood Reporter, is for consumers to bring portable devices into Blockbuster stores and download movies, usually in about two minutes. Blockbuster expects to begin testing the kiosks, which were produced by airline-kiosk maker NCR, in about three weeks. Initially, the system will work only with Archos devices, but Blockbuster expects the kiosk to be an "open system" that is compatible with a range of devices. Keyes declined to predict how many titles will be available on the kiosk, noting that Blockbuster was still in negotiations with the major studios for content.

I wasn't at the meeting, but I have to wonder if reporters giggled at this idea:

Keyes acknowledged that the kiosk pilot is likely coming well ahead of broad consumer demand for such services and should therefore only be seen as one additional distribution channel for the company as it tries to offer entertainment content whenever consumers want in whatever form they want.

"Well ahead of broad consumer demand for such services." Huh?

Talk about an innovative idea., Microsoft's Xbox Live, and Netflix already deliver movies directly to PCs; TiVo, Vudu, and Apple TV, as well as cable and satellite services offer video on demand to TVs; and electronic copies of movies are being sold alongside DVDs. So what makes Keyes think people want to leave their homes to drive to a store with a laptop-size device to download movies from an ATM?

People don't want to make the trip to the video store. Convenience is why Netflix is kicking Blockbuster's butt. Blockbuster seemed to have a road map for getting back on top with its acquisition of movie download service Movielink in 2007, and its idea for a set-top box for streaming video seemed to show promise (Indeed, my colleague Greg Sandoval reports that Netflix sees video streaming eventually overtaking physical DVD rentals). But this is also the company that has been kicking around the idea of buying electronics retailer Circuit City for $1 billion.

I could see these kiosks appealing to airport travelers, but otherwise this strikes me as an expensive remake of a soda machine.