Will Internet movie services ever replace the neighborhood video store?
In the long-term future -- long-term being relative, considering how swiftly technological advances are changing our lives -- we won't move many muscles to acquire the films we view at home.
Meanwhile, Blockbuster Inc., Starz Entertainment and other players are hedging their bets.
Blockbuster, which boasts of having rental stores within 10 minute drives of three of four Americans, last summer acquired online service Movielink, which will ultimately become part of Blockbuster.com, a movies-by-mail rental service patterned after Netflix Inc.
For its part, Starz, which has 16 premium cable movie channels, has been dabbling in online movies with its Vongo subscription service.
But Blockbuster isn't laying plans to tear down the brick-and-mortar, and Starz figures it will be in the cable business for a very long while.
"I don't predict this is the death of TV, or the death of cable," said Bob Greene, executive vice president of advanced services for Starz. "This is just another viewing option."
Asked to predict the future, Roy Price, product director of Amazon.com's Unbox movie download service, recited a list of structural changes that need to occur in our homes, Hollywood and cyberspace before digital services can become truly mainstream. Then he quoted cyberpunk novelist William Gibson: "The future is already here -- it's just poorly distributed."