So What Will Video Stores Look Like?

With all these newfangled set-top boxes and online video sites, renting a movie has never been more convenient. But what does that mean for physical video stores? Over the last two days, The New York Times has offered two glimpses into the video stores’ future. Blockbuster wants to add digital features to its brick-and-mortar legacy, while a new company called Clerk Dogs wants to bring the video store clerk into a digital world.

The Bits Blog ran a piece yesterday with Blockbuster (S BBI) CEO James Keyes talking about how the video rental store won’t die completely, but will adapt:

“The network of neighborhood shops will stay, but what is in them will change. Consumers will see electronics products, digital downloads, online ticketing and more. Behind the scenes, technology will adjust the chain’s inventory mix, burn DVDs to replenish supply of hot movies and more.”

In this scenario, the video store becomes more like a mini-Best Buy, where you come to buy stuff or jack in to download a movie to your device. The staff seems to be there more to facilitate your purchase or rental across different formats than helping you pick a movie.

On the other end of the spectrum is the startup, which officially launched today. It is an online video recommendation service that uses human video store clerks to put together a database of recommendations. Clerk Dogs believes (and I’d have to agree) that there is something missing from the automated algorithmic recommendations provided by Netflix. These human movie geeks fill in those blanks and offer up suggestions based on their gut feelings.

As more video becomes available on demand, a service like Clerk Dogs will become increasingly important in helping us sift through mountains of lists of movies to watch. I don’t know how good a business it is (humans are more expensive to hire than algorithms), but from some initial tests with the service, the recommendations seem spot on.

Last year I suggested that the perfect video store was one that married these two visions: a small physical space staffed by movie geeks you could talk with and computers that would let you download or send a movie back home.

Whatever the future will look like, the days of aimlessly wandering the aisles with friends, staring blankly at a wall of movies and asking “I dunno, what do you want to watch?” are definitely numbered.