The early 2000s saw etailers such as DVD Street, Play, Blackstar and Movietyme become top choices for movie lovers – and we’ve been digging into their stories.
Two new developments landed roughly around the same time towards the end of the 1990s. The emergence of the DVD format from 1996 onwards, and the infant days of online shopping too. The result was a new bunch of companies jumping into the world of movie selling, and some fresh competition for established retailers.
Obviously, Amazon went on to take over the world, and in the US, for a while businesses such as Reel.com, DVD Express, Checkout and DVD Empire were prevalent. And, of course, DVD Box Office in Canada. All of which are now gone. In the UK, for the late 90s and early 2000s, a collection of companies came to life too that for a while were go-to outlets for film fans.
But what happened to them? Glad you asked…
Originally launched as Play247 and operating out of the Channel Islands, for a long time for DVD lovers, Play was the website to go to. Free shipping and 25% discounts as a matter of course were big selling points in 1998, a time when Amazon offered neither. It got to the point that by the mid-2000s, Play was one of the biggest etailers in the UK.
But as Amazon grew, the biggest change for Play was when it was bought by Japanese etailing giant Rakuten in 2011. The deal was worth £25m, but it’d also be the start of the end for Play. Bu 2013, Rakuten had turned it into an online marketplace in the UK for others to sell their products, rather than Play selling direct itself. Its logo gradually shrunk as Rakuten’s grew, and the Play name was retired in March 2015.
Rakuten now sells movies in the UK, but digitally only. Play will not be revived.
An etailer launched in a blitz of publicity in 1998, Blackstar sold itself off the back of free delivery, and an ability to get any video or DVD you wanted. Fast. It was also profitable quickly, to the point where in the summer of 1999, it was able to attract a second round of investor funding worth nearly £4m (the press release is still here) https://pressreleases.responsesource.com/news/3926/blackstar-uk-video-and-dvd-online-retailer-secures-m-investment/
The company was based in Northern Ireland, and it was successful for a few years. But it became gradually concerned that more and more customers were going to the .com version of its name, which it didn’t own (in an era where Google didn’t do the heavy lifting there for you). As such in March 2004 is announced it was changing its name to SendIt.com. At its peak, Blackstar employed 130 staff and was seen as a darling of the dot.com initial boom.
By 2005, SendIt was taken over by the Pilton Group, though, and sales were collapsing. Accounts to the end of March 2015 showed a turnover of £106,678, and a profit of £945. Sales had fallen by a quarter of a million pounds in one year.
The decision to close SendIt was announced in August 2005, with it being concluded there was not a sustainable future for the business.
The Streets Online network of sites were launched in 1996 by entrepreneur Stephen Cole with book site Alphabet Street. DVD Street wasn’t far behind, and soon there was a network of websites under the Streets Online banner. By 2000 they were doing a lot of business too, with over 300,000 customers in those infant e-commerce days. In just six months of 2000, it did £10m of business.
So successful were they that in swooped the Kingfisher Group in October 2000 to buy the whole lot up. Kingfisher at that stage owned Woolworths, Comet, Superdrug and MCV, and the plan was to align Streets Online with the MVC chain of video and music shops. Kingfisher paid £15.7m for the collection of sites, which were moved under the Woolworths Group when it was demerged from the Kingfisher parent company a year later.
The story of Woolworths, though, is sadly well known, and Streets Online was ultimately wrapped up init. By 2009, the company was defunct, after entering administration at the end of the previous year. Streets Online was gone too.
Again, once one of the biggest etailers in the UK, one that by 1999 was boasted 300,000 registered customers, and sales of £75m. Incredible, by the metrics of the time. It wasn’t making a profit – an £11.4m loss had been recorded that same year – but there was a real sense that it was going places. Furthermore it spent heavily on promotion, with DVD sales part of its extensive product range.
By the autumn of 2000, though, cracks were showing. A company that had been valued at £750m initially was sold to Great Universal Stores for £37m. The owner of Argos had beaten off competition from Dixons and Kingfisher to secure the sale. Within a few years, though, Jungle had been absorbed by Argos. The Jungle branding was gone, and another early internet shopping standard bearer had been eaten up.
Part of the ’zone’ collection of sites that sprung up in 1998, and seemingly never had a redesign for their entire life. They first appeared – with CDZone the main site – in 1998 – and through a rudimentary interface, were supplying discs, books, games, videos and such like for the best part of a decade. Reliably, too. Finding stuff was hard work, but it always turned up.
It’s hard to track down just what happened to the company behind it, though. It seemed to just fizzle out, with a Companies House listing revealing the Halifax-based parent company was dissolved in 2015, having been formed in 1996. That said, no accounts had been filed since 2011, so it’s fair to assume that’s when things wound down.
For a long time, Movietyme was the popular retailer of choice if you wanted to import region one DVDs from America. Famed for getting you your films ahead of street dates (it’s probably fair we can say that out loud now, even though it was a legal open secret at the time), the business ran from 2000 to 2015, often taking a stand at British Comic-Cons too. There were cheaper importers available from time to time too, but Movietyme was the one that stood the test of time, before finally closing its doors in 2015.
As they wrote to customers at the end of July 2015, “After many happy years serving our customers with the latest DVD’s & Blu ray movies the time has now sadly come to close down. The industry has changed SO much over the past few years with Distributors closing , streaming services and download sites, and Amazon. So effective today we are now closed for business, which breaks our heart because we love this job, we love and appreciate our customers, and most of all WE LOVE MOVIES!”
And they really did…
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