B'buster critters to hawk online rentals

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Blockbuster Inc. will reanimate a pair of furry mascots this weekend in a new Super Bowl television commercial designed to boost subscriptions to its online DVD rental program.

 The 30-second ad, featuring a computer-generated rabbit, Carl, and his guinea pig sidekick, Ray, who both debuted at the 2002 Super Bowl, are part of a renewed marketing push to take market share from rival Netflix Inc..

 The pair will talk up Blockbuster's Total Access program, which allows online subscribers to swap DVDs at its stores, in a direct challenge to Netflix's mail-based DVD exchanges.

 Blockbuster, which entered the online DVD rental market in 2004 and has lagged Netflix in growth, credits Total Access with helping it add 700,000 subscribers in about two months.

 Netflix, which predicted it would face a "headwind" this quarter from Blockbuster's marketing blitz, recently cut the price of its lowest-priced subscription plan by a dollar to stimulate growth. It also launched, for the second consecutive year, a high-profile Oscar campaign in conjunction with ABC.

 Blockbuster has about 2.2 million online subscribers, compared with 6.3 million for Netflix.

 The Blockbuster ad for this year's American football championship game, dubbed "Mouse Click," adds a mouse character to the cast and features the voices of James Woods, Jim Belushi, Alec Baldwin and Bob Goldthwait.

 Shares of Blockbuster were up 2.3%, or 15 cents per share, at $6.65 on Friday. Shares of Netflix were up 1.3%, or 29%, at $23.02.
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