November 01, 2010

DVD Kiosk - Entangled in red tape, Redbox eyes Internet with longing

Nice article on communities beginning to set design standards for how big/what color and where self-service vending machines can be reasonably located.

Entangled in red tape, Redbox eyes Internet with longing

Redbox has rented more than a billion DVDs out of its cute red kiosks; at a buck apiece, why not pick one up on your way out of the grocery store? But Redbox, like Netflix, has seen the future, and it is movies delivered digitally, right over the Internet. The company recently laid out its plans for Internet delivery.

Digital delivery is more convenient than even the most convenient of kiosks, of course. The selection can be nearly infinite, rather than limited to whatever can fit inside the little red box. And of course you don't need to buy all those little red boxes, work out revenue-sharing deals with partners, and deal with city zoning officials.

"What's that?" you say. "Who could possibly care if a store sticks a Redbox next to its front door?"

The city of Wheaton, Illinois, for one. Many of us at Ars live in Chicago, city of broad shoulders, where this week, the local stories included Wheaton's push to regulate both the size and location of Redbox kiosks in town.

This certainly sounded odd, so we dug into the city archives of Wheaton, a wealthy suburb to the west of Chicago, and we were reminded again of just how important a permission-less Internet has been to the huge wave of innovation that has crashed through the tech sector over the last 15 years.

Let's regulate

At two sparsely attended meetings of the Wheaton Planning and Zoning Board this summer and fall, the members of the Board decided that something should be done about the Red Menace. But was there a menace? Redbox has only a few kiosks scattered throughout the 70,000-strong city of Wheaton (the company's online map shows three), mostly notably outside a major Jewel grocery store, where they are illuminated and have plenty of space.

Despite this, a city planning official, appearing before the Board, expressed her worry that the machines would "start to appear in less than desirable locations throughout the city," since more inquiries about installing machines had been made to City Hall. (Note that Wheaton is a city that doesn't allow soda vending machines outside of stores, and the Zoning Board spent much of this meeting thinking of ways to rein in clothing and book donation boxes in parking lots. There are... lots of rules.)

"I worry about congestion at the doorways," said one member of the Board. "I worry about the look and the precedent," said another. "We don't want a 200 foot super-DVD vending machine or anything like that," added another.

Some sort of regulation was needed here, they agreed, though one member had to draw the line when a suggestion was made that the machines must be shut down whenever a business closed. ("You're killing the convenience!" someone finally said.)

So a proposed ordinance was drawn up to limit "DVD vending machines." At the second meeting on the issue, the youngest member of the Board raised an obvious objection: "Last christmas I got a Blu-ray player. It might be worth adding that to the language because it might be the next thing or something."

He was told by an older gentleman on the Board that the term "DVD" covered everything, "Blu-ray" being simply a subset of the category.

So, after a city planning official trekked out to Jewel and measured the size of the existing machine, the city drew up a new ordinance on October 18. It says:

"Not more than one DVD vending machine per public entrance at grocery, convenience food store, department or drug store provided they are placed adjacent to the building, do not reduce the width of paved clear space for the passage of pedestrians to less than five (5) feet, and are not located within five (5) feet of the Fire Department connection. A maximum depth of three (3) feet, width of six (6) feet and height of eight (8) feet are permitted for the combined machine and surround."

If you want to put a machine outside your restaurant, coffee shop, or bookstore, you get to ask permission. If you'd like to file a variance request and sit through some Zoning Board meetings, you might get approval. The Board did consider the idea of requiring permits to install the kiosks, but eventually relented.

Entangled in red tape, Redbox eyes Internet with longing

Posted by staff at November 1, 2010 06:16 AM