How to Rent Movies in a Video Service War

blockbuster vs. netflix


You may have noticed lots of deal-making recently between movie studios and their post-box-office money makers, Blockbuster and Netflix. Just this morning Netflix announced its movies would be streamed to members Wii consoles, for example. Shares of both companies have fluttered with each new deal, and Blockbuster even warned that they might file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a few weeks ago as their stock-price plummeted as low as 24 cents. Yet the store-based rental chain is far from gasping its last breath, and in weeks past it has signed agreements with Twentieth Century Fox, Sony, and Warner Bros., which helped Blockbuster secure a better financial position with huge advantages over its competitors. Meanwhile, Netflix, as the blogosphere would have you believe, is suffering big-time from these inked deals. But what’s all this mean to customers deciding where to spend monthly movie dollars? Answer the following questions to find out where you can get the most bang for your buck.

Do you want movies NOW?
On an apples to apples comparison, Blockbuster’s and Netflix’s subscriptions are twins, offering the same monthly rates: $8.99 for 1 DVD, $13.99 for 2 DVDs, $16.99 for 3 DVDs. But there’s a significant difference in what you get for that price. No matter how fast you want your DVDs, most roads from Netflix and Blockbuster lead right to USPS mail trucks–one to two day delivery time is standard for both services.

However, for any price plan with Netflix, you get instant access to their huge library of streaming movies and TV. Netflix’s recent deals with Universal and Fox expanded their online catalogue. What does Blockbuster have by way of a streaming service? A weak deal with TiVo that offers Blockbuster movies on-demand…for $2.99 per rental. According to TiVo’s site: “You’ll be saving both time and money.” “Wasting” is more like it.

28 days later

Do you enjoy movies, like, 28 days later?
Not the zombie flick (who doesn’t love that?). If you have a Netflix account and yearn for new releases, you’re in the
wrong place. Netflix got the short-end of the stick over new releases with all the recent
contract back-and-forth, and must wait 28 days–4 weeks!–after Blockbuster customers get access to new movies, until they can send them out to Netflix’s
members. Let’s put it this way: When Sherlock Holmes came out
recently, Blockbuster subscribers gained immediate access to all the
Robert Downey-Jude Law comedic chemistry, while Netflix customers still have to wait 3 more weeks for the title even to ship. Can you wait that
long for Avatar on your 3-D TV? Then again, if you’re a movie buff who can’t get enough 80s B-movie cult classics and cheesy campground horror flicks,
Netflix obviously has the leg-up. Their streaming library is filled with ’em.

Do you have a car?

Sure, Blockbuster has no online service to match Netflix’s, but they do have the advantage of being a bricks-and-mortar business. So while you might not be able to stream movies immediately, with Blockbuster’s 3,750 U.S. stores, a new movie is only a car or subway ride away. And for just $3 more for each subscription plan, you get five in-store exchanges per month–a pretty convenient way to pick up rentals that Netflix’s Internet library are missing, while not having to wait for the processing and shipping. Of course, Blockbuster plans to close up to 960 stores soon, so the convenience might only be temporary.

Other questions to ponder: How much time do you spend on the go? Do you care about movie quality? What the hell is Redbox?
At the end of the day, the choice between subscriptions at Netflix and Blockbuster is defined by your lifestyle–and a handful of little things. With the release of the iPad, for example, came the marvelous Netflix app, allowing users to stream flicks beautifully on the go. Until 3G-enabled iPads come out, you’ll be confined to WiFi (or a mobile hotspot), but Netflix has made other signals that it’s branching into the mobile arena, recently hinting that they’ll be expanding to Android. Given how far Blockbuster is behind in online streaming, it seems unlikely they’ll ever catch up in mobile tech.


As for movie quality, it’s worth pointing out that Netflix charges an extra $2 a month–$24 per year– to access Blu-ray movies, whereas they come free with Blockbuster’s subscription.

Blockbuster Express kiosk

And what about Redbox? The $1-per-DVD rental vending-machines have been popping up all over the country. Perhaps it’s worth skipping the headache of subscriptions in favor of a service on your own terms. They currently have almost 22,000 kiosks throughout the U.S., and are rumored to be getting into the streaming business some time soon. But Redbox still faces the same issues as Netflix, having to wait four weeks after release until gaining access to new movies. Moreover, Blockbuster is planning to open as many as 10,000 Blockbuster Express kiosks in the coming year, which could significantly destroy Redbox’s unique appeal.

The bottom-line is that you’ll get pretty much the same by-mail subscription with Netflix and Blockbuster. The difference between the subscriptions is whether you value new releases immediately or an online streaming service.


Or, like the rest of us, you can just watch them on QuickSilverScreen or Megavideo for free before they’re even released in theaters.


About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.


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