Company revives program to drive traffic
Blockbuster is bringing back its “Guaranteed Availability” program for the first time since declaring bankruptcy in 2010, with Tuesday’s homevideo release of Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.”Now that the company has restructured under its new parent Dish Network, which acquired the rental chain last April, Blockbuster is eager to prove to Hollywood that it’s still a lucrative partner when it comes to generating rental revenue and promoting high-profile new DVD and Blu-ray releases. “Blockbuster has obviously been through some difficult times through the last 12 to 18 months and we’re emerging with some new studio deals with this business partnership with Paramount,” Blockbuster president Michael Kelly told Variety. “It’s the first title since our reorganization that Blockbuster has gotten behind.” Under “Guaranteed Availability,” Blockbuster will make “Ghost Protocol” available at its 1,000 stores, Dish’s Blockbuster @Home-branded VOD offering, and its disc-by-mail service Blockbuster Total Access until May 15. It won’t be available through Blockbuster Express kiosks, however, which NCR operates as a license from Blockbuster. Redbox-parent Coinstar said in February that it would acquire the machines for around $100 million. Naturally, Blockbuster is hoping the “Mission: Impossible” franchise will help drive more traffic into its stores and to its various other rental platforms, as well — even after that footprint’s gotten smaller, with Blockbuster hit hard by Netflix, Redbox and online streaming services. At its peak, Blockbuster operated 9,100 stores in 2004. It was left with 1,700 last April when Dish purchased the company for $320 million. In February, Dish said it would shutter 500 of the company’s 1,500 shops. Dish picked up the brand as a way to grow its own VOD business. “It’s like a launching pad for everything that comes after,” said Ellen Kramer, Blockbuster’s VP of marketing. “We’re back to forming important relationships with studios and very much intend to be the source for blockbuster entertainment. We are as important to the studios as they are to us.” While Blockbuster hopes to offer more films under the “Guaranteed Availability” program in the near future, it has yet to lock down more titles. “We’re working on that right now,” Kramer said. “We want to see how this one goes. With megahits like this one, it makes a lot of sense, but it might extend to smaller films.” Blockbuster chose the fourth “Mission: Impossible” because “this is a big box office title,” Kelly said. The film, which brings back Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, and was produced by Paramount and David Ellison’s Skydance Prods., outgrossed the first three installments, earning $650 million worldwide. “We know that demand for a megahit like ‘Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol’ is going to be high, and we are thrilled that Blockbuster will satisfy that demand,” Kelly said. Before it declared bankruptcy, Blockbuster was one of the few rental outlets that was still allowed by most of the studios to offer rentals day-and-date with a title’s DVD or Blu-ray release in stores. Kelly hopes the “Mission: Impossible” deal will open the door for it to do so once again, even if it’s for a limited time through a “Guaranteed Availability” push. “Guaranteeing availability on this type of release (day-and-date) is an important statement for both of our companies,” Kelly said. One incentive for the studios would be the marketing muscle Blockbuster is putting behind the release. The company will launch an extensive in-store, online and radio campaign to promote the release, as part of the effort, with the tagline: “Guaranteed in stock, or the rental is free.” Stores hand out coupons for free rentals if they’re not available in stores. Blockbuster is hoping to give a film’s promotional partners — “Ghost Protocol” had Coke Zero and BMW, for example — another outlet to tie-in with a film title once it hits homevideo. The company declined to disclose whether it altered its revenue split with the studios since its reorg through Dish, or if it had to sweeten deals to secure day-and-date releases. “It’s a relationship we believe will work favorably for the studios and in this case, Blockbuster,” Kelly said.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more