Online movie rentals used to be about Blockbuster and Neflix, both of whom offer videos via mail with a fast turnaround and various perks to subscribers. More recently, however, watching movies online means being able to stream a video to your desktop (or iTV) leaving consumers with a plethora of choices. Here’s an overview of the standby services and the new kids on the block.
MAILER PROGRAMS (Blockbuster amp; Netflix)
Both Blockbuster and Netflix offer subscription plans where you pay by the month rather than per video you watch. Both also allow consumers a certain number of videos at a time (3 is the average), which can be traded out an unlimited number of times per month. This allows consumers who rent many movies to save lots of money, but for infrequent movie watchers (or very busy people), this can sometimes cost more than it appears. Netflix has recently been exploring movies-on-demand (live streaming) while Blockbuster takes advantage of its storefronts to offer customers choice and flexibility.
Offers two subscription tiers: TotalAccess ($11.99-19.99/mo) for those who want to exchange videos at the store for free (now limited to a max of 5 with the 3 movies at a time program) and Blockbuster by Mail ($8.99-16.99/mo) for those who just want to use the mail service. Each of these plans is customizable depending on whether you want 1 to 3 movies at a time. One thing customers find frustrating about Blockbuster is they continually update their pricing structure — and each time strip away benefits. At first, they will keep you at your original pricing plan, but after a year or so they’ll start adding costs. Regardless, for customers who like the freedom to drive to the video store and choose a new release, Blockbuster is a convenient option. Their selection rivals Netflix’ (65-70,000 titles), though their foreign language section is more limited.
Netflix is the leader in mail-only movie subscriptions: its selection is unrivaled (both in number and quality), it offers a variety of pricing plans and is a technological innovator. Recently, Netflix announced that subscribers would have unlimited access to movie streaming, but here their selection needs improvement (currently it has only 6,000 titles); also, you must have a PC to run their programming, limiting the access. Many people find watching videos on a computer unappealing, but as the technology is rapidly changing this will likely not be as much of an issue in the future. Further, as Hollywood studios loosen their licensing agreements, more videos will be available for live streaming. Netflix’ streaming service is great for tv downloads, which studios have been less restrictive on licensing.
Netflix’ plans start at $4.99 for its cheapest and most restrictive program, but their most popular plan includes unlimited movie streaming, 3 mailers at a time and unlimited monthly rentals for $17. Unlike Blockbuster, they are completely online which keeps their costs down and their pricing competitive. Shipping times are speedy since they have distribution centers in most major cities.
In addition to Netflix’ offerings, there are several options available online for people who wish to do away with hard technology and watch movies entirely digitally. With the exception of Netflix, they all are pay-per-rent which means that more new releases are available.
PCs are required for this service, which includes television rentals and a large selection of movies. Customers can choose to rent or buy videos. Rental prices range from $2.49 to $3.00 depending on how recently the movie was released (and studio licensing quirks). The layout is a little awkward — you have to do a lot of scrolling to find what you’re looking for, but things are also clearly explained. Once you download, you have 30 days to watch, though once you start watching you have to finish within 24 hours.
Unbox has recently partnered with TiVo to permit customers to access the Amazon store from their TiVo box and watch videos on their TV’s, a hurdle Netflix has yet to overcome. Download times are a bit lengthy, meaning for Waitress ($3.99) you have to wait 45 minutes before you can start viewing it. With TiVo, you have some more options depending on your box, but if you haven’t upgraded recently, look to wait 3hrs and 30 minutes (longer than the video itself). Plan ahead!
Apple just recently released their response to Amazon’s Unbox. Movie rentals range from $2.99 to $4.99 depending on the age of the movie and whether you want to watch HD or not. The service is compatible with any computer or device that runs iTunes or uses Apple’s software: Macs, PCs, iPods, iTV, etc. The selection includes selections from each of the major studios and will increase in February. You don’t have to worry about download times because you can start watching your selection within a few minutes of starting the download and you can watch the movie as frequently as you wish within the 30 day loan period (though you must start and finish it within 24 hours to have your place bookmarked).
All of these options are currently being carefully watched by the media gurus who are struggling with how to take advantage of the new money making opportunities. While paying for movies by the rental seems outdated (though it’s an idea we all did till a few years ago!) I think this is a test run. Look for movie studios to allow subscriptions for a certain number of movies per month within the next year or so.
Apart from all the above sites, which have served as benchmarks for downloading movies these days, there are numerous other, lesser known ones, which deserve the merit of being mentioned along with their erstwhile superiors and one of them is movie 2k, from which you can download movies ranging from golden era classics to modern era ones.