August 14, 2009

Are Redbox DVD rentals too cheap?

Posted: 10:15 AM ET

Redbox operates DVD rental kiosks at over 15,000 retail locations across the country. The automated self-service systems hold over 600 DVDs and allow customers to pick up movies for only $1 per day.

The kiosks are gaining popularity, but their price and ease of use aren't winning over everyone. 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios have ordered wholesalers not to sell newly released DVDs to the rental company.

In a conference call with the Los Angeles Times, News Corp COO Chase Carey criticized the low-priced kiosks. "Having our [movies] rented at $1 in the rental window is grossly undervaluing our products," Carey said. "We are actively determining how to deal with it."

Unlike Blockbuster and Netflix, Redbox does not share profits from rentals with the major movie studios. But why should they?

The rental kiosks do not violate copyright law since they legally purchase the DVDs, and any form of unnecessary profit-sharing would certainly raise prices for consumers.

Upset by Redbox's success, Fox and Universal are leaning on wholesalers who distribute their DVDs to cut ties with the rental company. Redbox has responded by suing the studios for anti-competitive practices and abusing copyright law.

According to Ars Technica:

Redbox said that "Fox seeks to strangle" the low-priced rental market in order to maintain its own "artificially high" pricing scheme.

Meanwhile, Redbox plans to continue offering new releases from all studios, even if it means employees have to buy the DVDs at retail price the old-fashioned way.

Do you think the criticism of Redbox's pricing is justified? Should Redbox share profits with the major movie studios in exchange for new releases, or should the company remain independent?

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Filed under: Movies • technology

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July 3, 2008

Wall-E World

Posted: 04:48 PM ET

A little more than a century from now, our planet will be so polluted as to be virtually uninhabitable. That’s the cheery premise behind Disney/Pixar’s charming “Wall-E,” the most popular movie in the country last week.

AP Photo

The film takes place in the 2800s, when Wall-E, a cute little trash-compacting robot, is the last life of any kind remaining on Earth (aside from his indestructible pet cockroach). Long since abandoned, Wall-E goes about his solitary and meaningless work in a bleak urban landscape marred by dirty skies, sludgy seas and towering piles of consumer waste from Buy N’ Large, the free market’s last surviving megastore.

From “I Am Legend” to Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” recent pop culture has been full of post-apocalyptic stories. But “Wall-E” departs from those tales in one key aspect: The human race in this movie isn’t becoming extinct, it’s just on an indefinite vacation. In the future created by “Wall-E’s” filmmakers, we humans flee our ruined planet in 2110 for giant, cruise-ship-like space vessels, where we drift numbly through the solar system for the next 700 years. Coddled by servant robots, carted around on levitating recliner chairs, fed through Big Gulp-like cups and medicated by programming on ever-present hologram TVs, we have become infantile and morbidly fat.

In this way, “Wall-E” takes 21st-century societal trends – ecological destruction, rampant consumerism, corporate consolidation and obesity – and projects them forward to their most drastic consequences. Right-wing bloggers already have attacked what they see as the movie’s save-the-Earth message, although they might be heartened to see that in “Wall-E’s” vision of the future, government doesn’t seem to exist (the spacecraft are operated by Buy N’ Large).

Like many futuristic stories, “Wall-E” takes a cautionary view of technology. Its chief antagonist is a spaceship’s autopilot function (a nod to HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey”), and the movie’s ending celebrates the benefits of. . .simple farming. Wall-E himself is a mostly low-tech creation, more mechanical than digital, although he displays remarkable feelings of curiosity, fear and love.

One final thought: Considering that Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs also ran Pixar, it’s no surprise that the solar-powered Wall-E reboots to the swelling sound of the Mac startup tone. But Pixar does have a sense of humor - the evil autopilot computer is voiced by Apple’s speech-recognition software.

–Brandon Griggs, Tech Section Producer,

Filed under: environment • Movies

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