If you’re a faithful reader of this blog you know that just last week in Dallas I had Jim Keyes, CEO of Blockbuster on stage at our Forrester consumer forum. He gave a great speech with amazing detail. But one of the things he was clear on was this: Blockbuster wasn’t going to do a set top box this year. I pressed him on this in Q&A and he said that consumers weren’t ready for it — it was a case of “getting ahead of our headlights” to quote his exact colorful speech.
It appears that set top box question has been reopened. In a conference call with Wall St yesterday, Keyes said that a set top box would indeed be out by year-end.
Either Jim was playing hard to get last week on stage, or, rather, Blockbuster has seen the aggressive announcements from Netflix in the past two weeks and concluded that it cannot afford to let Netflix get too far ahead in this race.
If that’s his thinking, then I agree. We actually urged this kind of thinking back in our July report on the future of the set-top box. We said then that most of these boxes were doomed, but that they were important to invest in anyway. We wrote:
Even following our suggestions, the best that the most successful of these players will do in the short run is to sell 2 million boxes. Our money is on the Netflix/Roku box, as it has the fewest barriers to adoption and sufficient functionality to appeal to consumers’ desires — especially if it rapidly evolves to include more content and additional services. Without modifications to create more appeal and overcome major barriers, we expect the others will all fight to surpass a million — and most will do far worse. For those that do eclipse a million, is it enough to get the foothold they’re shooting for? Yes. But their mistake is in thinking that the foothold that matters is the device’s penetration. It’s not. It’s actually the penetration of the video service that the device features, as the ideal scenario for future take-up is one in which a viewer has a content subscription that is accessible from multiple devices.
source: Competitive Product Ranking: Picking a Winning Set-Top Box, 17 July 2008.
That’s the key. It’s getting the Blockbuster service into people’s homes, much the way Netflix is doing with its multitude of announcements. So even if Jim didn’t tell us the whole truth, we’ll still approve of where he’s headed. Of course, we have no details on how he’ll do it. If he follows through on the subscription model he hinted at on stage, that will be intriguing. Stay tuned.