September 21, 2011
The curtain hasn't even opened on Netflix's new DVD-by-mail spin-off company Qwikster, and many customers are already walking out.
The company recently revised its quarterly projections of net subscribers to show 1 million fewer customers than it had previously expected. Much to Netflix's chagrin, folks are realizing that the king of mail-away media isn't the only game in town.
We've taken a look at some of Netflix's (and Qwikster's) main competitors, and judged each service accordingly. Do the rest offer enough to stand up to the best?
Also known as Netflix: Redux. It's the same service we know and love, only completely different. Faced with massive customer backlash in the wake of a price hike, Netflix split itself into two separate companies this week. The streaming service will retain the Netflix branding while the DVD-by-mail service will be named Qwikster. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the split will better serve customers in the long run because each company will be able to better focus on one type of service.
Netflix pioneered the DVD-by-mail service, creating an entire industry where one did not exist previously. But after serious flux in Netflix's new pricing system — which split the streaming and DVD mailing services into two separate plans starting at $8 a month minimum — there's no guarantee the company's customers will continue to stick around.
WIRED: It's been around the longest, and is the most familiar service. Massive offering of physical mail-away media. New game rental service sounds intriguing. Streaming to all iOS devices and Android smartphones.
TIRED: Can you say price increase? We don't like paying more money for the same service, and we're failing to see how splitting the companies in twain is going to benefit consumers. Streaming-only service still lacks selection compared to DVD catalog.
Amazon's elite-level service launched in 2005, offering two-day shipping on any of its products to members anywhere in the continental United States and other select countries for a reasonable $80 a year. Originally meant for those who couldn't wait more than 48 hours for their tangible goods, Prime expanded in February to offer instant, streaming movie and TV show access to existing Prime customers at no added cost.
WIRED: Fast shipping on everything Amazon! What other movie service offers that? Lower yearly rate than Netflix and Qwikster. Works with over 100 different web-connected set-top boxes, including the ever-popular Roku.
TIRED: Smaller media selection compared to other existing services. Lacks the DVD rental option that made Netflix famous.
Redbox made it possible for legions of supermarket shoppers to pick up a movie on the cheap, without having to make multiple stops. Instead of leaving the grocery store (or 7-11, Walgreens or what have you) with only a TV dinner and a Mountain Dew in tow, Redbox's 30,000-plus DVD-rental kiosks make sure you won't go home alone on a Friday night again.
WIRED: Cheap, cheap, cheap. DVD rentals average two bucks a pop, with anywhere from 50 to 200 recent titles to select from in each kiosk, updated weekly. Game rentals to roll out this year.
TIRED: No streaming service? Bummer.
Once the dominant force in the media-rental industry, Blockbuster has fared horribly over the past few years. After scoffing at Netflix's business model years ago, the big blue-and-gold company filed for bankruptcy last September.
However late, Blockbuster jumped on the bandwagon with its own Netflix clone mail-away service, but with the added advantage of allowing customers to return DVDs to brick-and-mortar Blockbuster stores. And finally, Blockbuster Express is a blue-and-gold Redbox rip, with kiosks placed in grocery stores and Kwik-E-Mart's across the country.
WIRED: The Dish Network acquisition could mean big things for Blockbuster when (or if) the companies get a game plan up and running.
TIRED: Brick and mortar is slowly dying, so the leg-up Blockbuster has on Netflix with in-store DVD exchange may soon be moot. Ripping off its two major competitors shows a lack of ability to innovate, possibly signifying that the company is still behind the times.
At $8 a month, Hulu Plus offers instant streaming access to a wealth of TV shows only a day or so after they've originally aired. But seriously, if you're paying a monthly fee, you shouldn't have to deal with mid-show commercial breaks. That's the whole point of paying for streaming service, right?
Still, I challenge you to find a more comprehensive archive of Hell's Kitchen reruns on the web.
WIRED: Streaming to all iOS devices and some Android smartphones and tablets. Tons of TV shows that aren't out to rent on DVD.
TIRED: Despite taking your $8 monthly fee, you still have to sit through asinine commercials. "Hundreds," not thousands, of movies to choose from. Again, no physical media. Rights agreements sometimes complicate how many episodes are available for viewing on the site.
Google has struggled to keep up with Apple in its media service offerings, only recently debuting its movie rental service on the Android Market in conjunction with a complete interface makeover. Fortunately, renting flicks from Google is available on all Android devices running version 2.2 and up — that's something even Hulu can't say.
WIRED: Rental ain't pricey, averaging around two to five bucks a pop. Streaming to Android phones is nice. Compatible with PCs.
TIRED: No physical media. Not functional across all Android tablets.
iTunes and Apple TV
There's a down-payment to get Apple TV up and running in your home, and it's in the form of a small, sleek set-top box. Fortunately, it's only $100.
Along with Netflix compatibility, Apple lets you purchase and rent movies from its iTunes media store, along with the ability to buy TV shows (due to lack of customer demand, Apple discontinued TV show rentals last month). Further, you're able to watch streaming media on all of Apple's mobile devices. The company wants to hook you into an Apple-centric world, and the interconnection between its services makes it easier for customers to buy in.
WIRED: Purchase prices are par for the course, ranging from $1 to $3 depending on whether you want to rent or own. Ability to buy entire seasons of a show is convenient. Rumors and speculation have long suggested bigger plans for Apple TV's future, though Apple itself is staying mum on any potential developments.
TIRED: Lacks an "all-you-can-stream buffet" option, which can get costly if you watch a lot of flicks. Though its library is extensive, iTunes alone doesn't contain the esoteric indie films that Netflix totes. So if you're subscribing to Netflix and buying through iTunes at the same time, charges could add up fast.
Wal-Mart got in on the media-services game in 2010 by buying Vudu, another streaming media company. Initially the service was available only in a set-top box version, but Vudu has since extended itself to other platforms as a standalone media service in and of itself, available to Playstation 3 users, Boxee for OSX owners and Windows-based PC users.
WIRED: Rentals and purchases stay on par with most other services, settling in the $1 to $5 range for rentals, and upwards of $5 for purchases. Titles available the same day they're released on DVD, unlike other services that require waiting periods. Streaming video available on iPad.
TIRED: No monthly unlimited movie-streaming option.