What Dish Network Can Learn from Blockbuster

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We’d never do our legions of readers the discourtesy of asking their ages, but we’ll wager you’re all old enough to remember what was meant to be a 15-minute trip to the local Blockbuster turning into an hour-long agony of unavailable New Releases, genre-related disagreements, mislaid membership cards and interminable queues. Blockbuster, though wounded, is still extant, and yesterday a bankruptcy judge approved Dish Network’s $320 million bid (remember when that used to be real money?) for the former movie rental behemoth. In addition to purchasing the business, we hope Dish has acquired some wisdom from Blockbuster’s downfall.

Not that long ago, Blockbuster was the Kleenex of watching movies at home. Sadly for those of us who were customers, they threw that weight around with nonexistent customer service and unconscionable late fees. Their hubris (or inertia) extended from their operations to their brand. While digital cable made on-demand movies a reality and Netflix fine tuned its operations, Blockbuster did little, if anything, to expand associations with its brand beyond dissatisfactory brick and mortar experiences. By the time Blockbuster did start offering DVD’s by mail and online movies, it was too late – its competitors’ brands had cornered the market on forward-thinking convenience.

So what does this mean to Dish?

We know people whose job it is to see the future. We know people whose job it is to see the future before them. We wish we had that kind of perspicacity, but we can say with confidence that:

  • with cable companies, phone companies, satellite companies and wireless companies competing to provide increasingly similar bundles of services;
  • with consumers coming to understand that movies, television, music and every other type of content can be reduced to binary strings;
  • with Google choosing Kansas City to test a 1 Gbps fiber-to-the-home network;

it behooves Dish to start building some flexibility into its brand.

We know that Dish is locked in competition against cable, and that a brand that focuses on the hardware and the distribution mechanism certainly helps them differentiate. But that brand does little in the fight against DirecTV, and it aligns them inextricably with a technology that may not be the winner in the content delivery arms race.

Brand is about more than name, more than logo, but those elements do matter a lot. We’re not asserting that Dish needs to change its corporate identity or face certain death (if iTunes can sell movies then Dish can offer more than just satellite service). We are, however, saying that Dish should learn from Blockbuster’s failure to adapt to a changing marketplace.

It doesn’t require knowing exactly what the future will look like, but it does require acknowledging that the future may not arrive via satellite.

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