Today I walked along the local high street and instinctively went to step into Xtravision for a little browse only to find that the door was locked and bore a sad little A4 printout informing of the shop's closure and heralding the imminent passing of one more aspect of my youth; the video rental shop.

I shouldn't complain really. I'm part of the generation who have embraced the great binary serial killer. I love the Internet. I love iTunes and Netflix. But I can't help feel a little guilty and complicit in the murder of these high street experiences. Thanks to my generation, future generations won't know the joy of flicking through records or CDs in a bustling HMV or Virgin Megastore. They won't know the excitement of seeing that there's one copy left of the latest blockbuster in Xtravision.

But I guess times change and we change with them.

But it got me to thinking. Is there any business model left for a brand like Xtravision? Could anything save them from oblivion?

I mean, why is it that we love to flock into the Apple Store? Ironically, the brand that has done most damage to the high street has, itself, become a phenomenally successful high street brand.
I suppose it's because the Apple stores offer an experience. The chance to touch, feel and play with beautiful, cool gadgets within a funky, slightly geektastic environment.

It's the same with shoe shops, high end fashion outlets and coffee chains. The experience is the thing. So they survive and thrive.

But, unfortunately for xtravision, the place to experience film is in a cinema or in a living room. The video shop experience per sé just isn't quite compelling enough to make us resist the convenient pull of iTunes, Sky Box Office and Netflix.

There isn't even really a true sensory experience to be had. The "last copy" excitement I spoke of is more often superseded by "no copies left" frustration.
And you rarely get that pleasurable geek-out interaction with staff that one might get in a record shop or comic book store.
Maybe video stores just have to call it a day, cut their losses and retreat to the web to try and carve out some online presence for themselves.

It seems a shame though. Because people still have DVD players, most computers and gaming consoles are still shipped with players. While there's still life in the physical format, surely there's still life in the physical rental store.

Perhaps it's a matter of price. It does seem somewhat painful to pay maybe 5 euro for a movie that retails at little more than twice that.

Maybe Xtravision could look into self destructing disks (a technology from the nineties that never quite took off). What if rental of a brand new movie cost just 3 euro and was loaded, at point of sale, onto a blank disk and was programmed to self wipe after 48 hours. I get 2 days to watch a movie that I want to see but don't want to buy. And I dont have to bother with bringing it back the next day. If they want to avoid falling foul of environmentalists they could offer 10 cent for every used disk returned.

Why couldn't they convert themselves from a suburban shop front model to a small kiosk model? Set up in the concourses of bright shopping centres where thousands of people churn through every Saturday morning and might be very happy to pick up Life of Pi for 3 quid to watch that night with their chippy tea.

These kiosks could be decked in impressive touch-screens for an enjoyable browsing experience. Find that movie you love with your woman in it from the Sixties in their extensive archive and have them download it instantly on to a disk. Or alternatively, onto a flash drive, or just bump it onto your iPhone.

This physical presence in high churn retail areas could work in tandem with a sophisticated online presence. Perhaps you saw something on their browsing screens but decided to grab it later on their website.

If they were to set up these small stores or kiosks near multiplex cinemas, an extra level of relevance could be achieved as movie goers were reminded of recent releases that they missed.

Forget about trying to sell everything but baby Jesus and the kitchen sink. Concentrate on the browsing experience and quick fix convenience. How much would I love to grab a shiny DVD of Iron Man 3 while I'm in some shopping centre that's miles from my home and not have to worry about returning it because I know it will self erase in two days time. I just let the empty disks pile up and then bring/post them back to xtravision for a bit of cash back or some rental credit.

Anyway, I'm not a businessman and I'm sure the managers and receivers of xtravision have been through all these options and more in their quest to save the business.

And I hope they can. It would be nice to see at least one seemingly doomed high street brand pull victory back from the jaws of d'internet.

Here's a bit of meta-ness. A wiki article about self destructing disks (though I imagine that, these days, such a functionality could be just programmed into the file)

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