Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Louie Swisher Hearts Redbox–But Hollywood Not So Much


If you want to get Hollywood movie studio types irked, mention Google (GOOG). And if you want them steamed, bringing up Netflix (NFLX) will usually work.

But if you want to see the tops of their heads blow off, Redbox is just the ticket.

Except not to their movies, it seems, if the major movie studio execs have their way in an ever-growing legal battle with the DVD-rental kiosk company.

Three of them have become embroiled in lawsuits with Redbox, even as the DVD market contracts.

Well, not for Redbox–which is located in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., and is wholly owned by Bellevue, Wash.-based Coinstar (CSTR).

It is seeing strong rental growth due to its $1-a-night price for first-run movies, which the company distributes via its 15,000 freestanding machines in supermarkets and convenience stores, as well as in big chains like McDonald’s (MCD), Wal-Mart (WMT) and Walgreens (WAG).

Redbox is arguing that once it buys DVDs from the studios through wholesalers, it can charge any price it wants.

Studios beg to differ, claiming that bargain-basement pricing is hurting the market and that Redbox should not get the goods until after the first month of release of movies into the DVD market.

“These guys are simply grossly undervaluing our content,” said one studio source, in what is a typical sentiment. “We get the windowing model is changing, but we can’t just give these guys our stuff at a low, low price to essentially enable them to give it away…and that’s exactly what they wanted us to do.”

Thus, it’s a perfect set-up for legal high jinks about the issues of steep discounting, windowing and the price for premium content.

Redbox recently sued Warner Home Video, owned by Time Warner (TWX), for denying it the opportunity to buy DVDs without being required to wait a month or more to rent them out.

It has previously gone after NBC Universal’s Universal Studios Home Entertainment, owned by GE (GE) and 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp. (NWS), for similar release restrictions.

And while some studios are holding fast to fighting price declines represented by consumer-friendly, idiot-proof tech solutions like Redbox, others are not.

Redbox has inked deals with Sony (SNE), Lions Gate (LGF), Paramount, a unit of Viacom (VIA), and also gets movies from Disney (DIS).

It’s a fascinating case to watch–yet another wrinkle in the what-is-content-really-worth question that has been plaguing all traditional media.

Unfortunately for those companies, the kids seem to love it, as you will see from this video I did while renting movies at our local Safeway (SWY) with my seven-year-old son, Louie, at a small competitor to Redbox with about 1,400 outlets called DVDPlay.

We use both, but Louie–like a lot of consumers–is most definitely a fan of the Redbox method.

Here’s the video:

[Full disclosure: News Corp. owns Dow Jones, which owns this site.]