Thursday, January 22, 2009

Netflix, Blockbuster Struggle for Online Supremacy

The advent and rise of the internet has changed the landscape for DVD rentals as we know it. The option of illegally downloading movies for free has become a viable and intriguing option for computer literate people. On the other hand the internet has opened an honest debate of brick and mortar DVD renting at Blockbuster versus the convenience and ease of online rental services such as Netflix where the DVDs are sent to you.

There are lots of points to weigh when considering how to go about renting films. First and foremost is to consider how many DVDs you rent on average per month. At the rough price of $4 plus tax at a local Blockbuster store things can add up quick. Netflix’s online plans are a much more cost effective option.

If you rent four DVDs a month in an actual Blockbuster store you’re spending the same amount as you would be for Netflix’s three out at-a-time plan which is set at $16.99 a month. To sweeten the deal members are given the ability to watch a limited selection of films and television shows on your computer or Netflix ready device. Selections range from classics such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” to niche titles such as “Dancer in the Dark” to television shows such as “The Office”. The instant watch feature is available with any of the Netflix unlimited plans which range from one at-a-time for $8.99 a month to eight at-a-time for $47.99.

Those of you that own an Xbox 360 might have noticed Microsoft’s partnership with Netflix this past fall when the New Xbox Experience system update came into effect. If one has an Xbox 360, a gold Xbox Live membership and any of the unlimited rental plans on Netflix they are able to view the instant watch selections on their televisions through their Xbox 360. This includes a small number of high definition titles. The new partnership with Microsoft essentially gives capable Netflix users a seemingly endless collection of films at home to watch at any time of the day.

In an attempt to combat the efforts by Netflix, Blockbuster devised their own online rental program. The program is similar in function to Netflix where users add films to their queue and the titles are shipped to the member at home. The one difference comes with Blockbuster’s Total Access program. For $19.99 a month members receive three rentals at home at-a-time and five in-store exchanges per month. This means that five times a month you’re able to bring your returned and sealed envelope of a DVD you received in the mail to the store to exchange it for a free rental.

When Blockbuster first began this promotion they offered unlimited in store exchanges for a cheaper price meaning if you rented 15 DVDs in a month you could turn that into 30 DVDs if desired. The other basic option for Blockbuster is $15.99 a month for three out at-a-time with no in-store exchanges. This does not come with any sort of online viewing feature like Netflix does.

While price for online services might lean in Blockbuster’s direction there are a few more items to think about that will help you make your choice. First you must consider the types of films that you’re going to rent. My experience has shown that many of the films that Blockbuster had as very long waits (which is as long as it sounds) are available to ship next day at Netflix. The general selection and variety on Netflix is much wider as well. Far more niche genre titles or obscure foreign films can be found on Netflix that are nowhere to be found on Blockbuster’s online program.

As far as the always important customer service goes Netflix trumps again. From my experience with Blockbuster’s online program I can’t help but suggest against it if you want to receive your DVDs in order and on time. With Blockbuster I would sometimes have titles that are listed as available skipped over. Instead of having the number one film on my list sent to me the title I ranked fifth would be sent. When you have limited time to receive and watch these films the idea that what’s available will be sent to me is always important. Another problem is receiving the wrong disc or a broken disc. While this isn’t an often occurrence it happened more times with Blockbuster than it did with Netflix.

There is a lot to think about when choosing the rental method appropriate for you. The best way to decide between the two services might be to use both services free limited trials that typically last two weeks. Although it is a limited time frame it might give you a good idea as to which program you’ll get the most out of.

The convenience of going to a store and picking a DVD up on a whim has been surpassed by the even more convenient process of having DVDs shipped straight to your mailbox. Both Netflix’s and Blockbuster’s online programs are a much cheaper alternative to the old fashion brick and mortar. The two companies seem poised to battle for supremacy in online DVD renting. As far as the future of physical store rentals one can only wonder if the competition for online supremacy plus the economic struggles will spell disaster for Blockbuster’s in-store rental system.

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