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Chumpy Mii watches Netflix via Wii

Chumpy gets Netflix through the Wii

You can almost hear the plunk of the last nail being driven into Blockbuster’s coffin. But the sound is as quiet as the whir of a Netflix disc in a child’s Nintendo Wii console.

After decades of resisting expansive cable tv options and expensive pay-per-view technology, frugal families across the United States can finally throw their VCRs in the trash and enjoy the same streaming entertainment so many people now take for granted, and at a fraction of the price.

This week the last of the streaming television holdouts–families like mine–began receiving free discs from Netflix that enable streaming media through their unassuming Wii consoles. Point the fat-fingered Wii cursor at your movie or HBO series of choice, and join the new millennium.

What is particularly interesting about this new development is not its potential impact on TiVo or ShowTime or satellite television. People used to paying a lot more money for a little more selection are not going to give up their slick technology to see Dexter in Luigi’s Mansion.  What is interesting is how the new technology holdouts (read cheapskates) have just leapfrogged their more tech-savvy friends. No extra fees, no new wiring to an extra box. Just a little disc to displace Wii Sports for an evening.

And a death knell for the brick-and-mortar video store, which long ago lost its advantage of in-house expertise and comprehensive selection. Blockbuster recently abandoned a detente in its war on customers by re-instituting heavy late fees, even on discs of crusty old movies that were not worth five dollars in the theater. The extensive library of classic movies and beloved B flicks has been replaced with a strange collection of impulse items, from Top 10 novels (wait for the movie) to microwave popcorn and giant bottles of Diet Pepsi.

A few months ago I bumped into a woman in the Horror section of our local Blockbuster. I had a copy of Nosferatu in my hand and she took that as a sign of hope that her quest for something like The Golem or The 39 Steps would not be in vain. We looked together for a bit, but then a jovial young Blockbuster employee insisted on helping. He listened to the woman explain that she was interested in a classy, subtle, clever drama. When he brightened and said, “May I suggest a movie for you?” she waited an uncomfortably long time before acquiescing, chin down, “Sure.” He grabbed a video from the shelf and held it up triumphantly. “Might I suggest The Grudge?”

No offense, jolly man, but you don’t know Mii. And you don’t know the woman looking for a movie that is not insulting. And you probably don’t get why she and I no longer come into your store and listen to your cross-sell opportunity of a box of Jolly Ranchers and a poster of Keanu Reeves. We are, both of us, sitting contentedly at home with Link and Mario and Tony Soprano.

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