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Technology changing the way movie-lovers rent

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Just as rentals and sales of DVDs have changed the business model for Hollywood film production companies, methods of marketing and delivering entertainment on DVD are drastically changing the way consumers access movies.

Increasingly, people in Northwest Colorado never leave home to rent videos. At the same time, DVD habits are being further altered by their availability at convenience stores and casual food restaurants.

Jim Goodwin, manager of Steamboat's only 7-Eleven store, said he just received two shipments totaling 240 DVDs for sale in the store on the city's west side.

The DVDs feature recent Hollywood film titles such as the musical "Chicago" starring Renee Zellwegger and Richard Gere and Mel Gibson's "Signs."

The DVDs are out of the ordinary because they sell for just $5.96, and are only viewable for 48 hours beginning when their vacuum-sealed packaging is opened.

"Locals are buying them," Goodwin said. "They're popular with kids -- 25-year-olds are coming in for them."

Convenience, or the avoidance of hassles, seems to be the driving force behind the changes in the industry, whether it's eliminating the need to get in the car to rent a

film or avoiding those pesky late fees that seem to bite video consumers.

Maggie Moore knows the pain, not only of late fees, but the high cost of losing a rented DVD.

Moore was coming out of the Steamboat Blockbuster one afternoon this week with a rented copy of a TV show -- "Six Feet Under Vol. 5."

Before her family moved to Steamboat Springs, they had the misfortune of losing a film from a Hollywood Video outlet on the Front Range. The store charged her $96.

"They wouldn't even let me replace it" at retail cost, Moore said.

Everything has become more streamlined, Moore said, since her family has joined Blockbuster's online rental service that allows unlimited rentals for $19.99 a month. It also entitles customers to two free in-store rentals a month, which explains why Moore was at the store this week.

"This is great," she said. "We've been doing it since June. We just pay once a month."

Blockbuster's relatively new online membership policy likely is driven by the industry pioneer Netflix, which first started mailing clients three DVDs at a time for a flat fee, and allowed them to return them in a postpaid mailer at their leisure. There are no late fees, and Netflix's share of the rental industry went up like Tom Hanks in "Apollo 13."

Netflix offers a monthly subscription for $21.99 a month plus tax. Customers keep a revolving library of three DVDs at any given time and exchange them for new DVDs as often as they want. Officials say the company has copies of every DVD ever distributed, and with a 24-hour shipping center in Denver, they offer prompt response.

The Web page is organized by film genres and provides suggestions and reviews.

Among independent retailers in Steamboat, Joe Kboudi has refined his niche in DVD sales at All that Jazz, 635 Lincoln Ave.

"We carry all of the new movies that come out, like 'Hidalgo,' and we have cult films. But where we are really strong is in concert DVDs," Kboudi said.

All that Jazz lives close to its customers and stocks DVDs of popular TV series such as the "Simpsons," "South Park" and old episodes of "Saturday Night Live." Kboudi also has a carefully selected collection of skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing videos.

The DVD sales being offered at 7-Eleven take advantage of a high-tech service called EZ-D, which is owned by Buena Vista Home entertainment. The DVDs it sells have the same sound and picture quality of any other DVD, the company reports. The biggest difference between an EZ-D and any other DVD, according to the company Web site, is that after 48 hours, it is rendered no longer watchable. The surface of the EZ-D is coated with a chemical that oxidizes and changes color after 48 hours, making it impossible for the laser beam in a DVD player to read it.

An important component of the EZ-D program is that the discs can be mailed in for recycling. Consumers are given a pretty good incentive to recycle -- in exchange for six defunct discs, the company will mail them a new movie.

As with most technology-driven changes in consumer habits, the change from traditional storefront DVD outlets to Internet services and convenience store outlets isn't likely to happen overnight.

Brothers Matt and Jordan Whitacre, both 17, are good examples.

Their parents subscribe to Netflix, but they were at Blockbuster returning a DVD this week.

Jordan Whitacre said he and his brother have a good track record as far as avoiding late fees at Blockbuster, and they acknowledge there always seem to be more DVDs lying around the house now that their parents have Netflix. The only problem is their parents' taste in films.

"Our parents tend to rent weird foreign flicks," Jordan said.

His father, Mike Whitacre, laughed at the remark.

"We lived in France for two years," he said. "We still enjoy hearing the language, and we appreciate the different (style of) cinematography. It's a very different point of view."

He predicted that before too many years go by, consumers would download the films they want to watch from the Internet.

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