The world is never flat at Blockbuster (NYSE:BBI), even if the top line tells us so.

The company posted a scant 1.4% increase in fourth-quarter revenue, but there is more to that $1.5 billion than meets the eye. There are several forces tugging at Blockbuster, requiring a little more context to properly balance the seemingly flattish showing.

We can break down that revenue to see that the company's bread-and-butter rental business was actually off by 3%. Despite the success of Total Access, a $30 million gain in online rentals wasn't enough to offset a $42 million shortfall of in-store rental revenue. Store closures and a sharp slide in rental comps overseas left a mark.

However, that was offset by international strength in merchandise sales. Worldwide sales rose 13% higher, powered by a 25% spike in video game sales.

Earnings fell to $0.05 a share for the quarter, after a $0.09-per-share showing a year ago. High costs in promoting the Total Access program -- something the company expects to continue in the near term -- more than offset cost improvements elsewhere.

Total Access is a big part of the Blockbuster story, of course, although you may not see it in the income statement. It is actually accounting for less than 8% of the company's rental revenue, but that doesn't make the program any less popular.

I've been checking it out since December. As a Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) clone, the service works as advertised. I find the interface and the title availability lacking compared to its larger rival, but the convenience of in-store returns for free rentals (and monthly coupons for free video game or movie rentals) is striking the right value proposition chord with consumers.

Total Access took in a whopping 700,000 new gross subscribers this past quarter, and it is looking to land another 800,000 in the current quarter. By the end of the year, it should have half as many members as Netflix.

The need to scale in a hurry is huge. (NASDAQ:AMZN), Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) are pitching digital delivery of films as the wave of the future. For marketing purposes, the larger the base of movie buffs that have your attention, the better, once you have a viable online delivery product available.

The next few quarters will be critical for Blockbuster. If Total Access proves popular but lacks a clear plan for profitability, creditors may get nervous. They don't seem to mind as long as the stock is inching higher -- and it has been doing that since bottoming out last year -- but every solid action film has a good chase scene.

Sooner or later, Blockbuster is going to have to cut to the chase.

For more on the movie rental business, check out:

Netflix and Amazon have been recommended to Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter subscribers. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been a Netflix subscriber -- and shareholder -- since 2002. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.