Blocking Blockbuster

by on March 17, 2005

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Trade Commission is expected to file a lawsuit to block Blockbuster’s move to takeover Hollywood Entertainment, a competing video rental company.

Here again is a classic example of how backward looking antitrust officials can often be. I suppose an argument could have be made that this was anti-competitive five years ago, when everyone still drove down to the local video store to get their movies. But come on, the world has changed a lot since then! Certainly most antitrust officials must have heard of Netflix by now. Netflix alone is decimating the traditional movie rental business and has already forced it to change its business model by eliminating late fees and moving to adopt their own online services.

Meanwhile, on-demand, pay-per-view video offerings are flourishing. Turn on any cable or satellite service and start flipping through the pay-per-view channels. It’ll take you a short eternity to scan all the options at your disposal.

And then’s there’s Internet video. True, it’s still in its infancy, but for a couple of bucks you can already download and watch most your favorite movies on your PC via

Meanwhile, the costs of DVDs continue to fall to the point where if you plan on watching a movie more than once, you might as well just buy it for your personal collection. Heck, WalMart has giant bins of movies on sale every day for a couple of bucks.

So the net result of the FTC blocking a Blockbuster-Hollywood Video merger will just be to stop two dying dinosaurs from having a chance to survive this coming storm. Once again, antitrust officials got the relevant market wrong and failed to appreciate the rapid pace of technological change.

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