Netflix/Qwikster: WTF

13 Dec

While you’ve been busy mourning the impending doom of your Netflix DVD queue, Blockbuster and Amazon have come up with plans to woo the red envelope-loyal fan base. On Friday, Blockbuster and its parent company, Dish Network, announced a streaming plan to rival that of Netflix. The Blockbuster Movie Pass will be available October 1 for current Dish subscribers, and for $10 per month, includes unlimited DVD, blu-ray, and video game rentals by mail in addition to the thousands of movies already available for streaming. There’s even rumor that with Starz ending its Netflix contract in February 2012, its 2,500+ movies could be finding a new home with Blockbuster’s streaming, since it would be combined with a cable contract for subscribers, a negotiation point Starz has been craving that Netflix wasn’t fulfilling.

Amazon Prime revealed its deal with 20th Century Fox to stream movies and TV shows on Monday. This negotiation adds 2,000 more titles to the growing online library Amazon has been curating. While Amazon Prime costs $79 for an annual membership, streaming is unlimited for that whole year (to compare, Netflix $7.99 monthly streaming plan is $95 for 12 months), and who knows how many movies the next 365 days could bring on the website.

Think this will soothe your nostalgia for your old $9.99 unlimited mail/online rentals? Not so fast. For now, only current Dish subscribers have access to this new plan as a supplement to their cable TV services, already $40 per month at least. Amazon Prime is cheaper annually in theory, but its 11,000+ digital library is still puny compared to the 100,000+ Netflix offers. And both services have yet to make movies playable on other connected devices, save the iPad. This goes into the growing list of cons for Netflix users itching for better alternatives, since they’re used to having Instant Watch access from their Wiis/Playstation 3s/Xbox 360s/Blu-ray players. 

Netflix is constantly gaining more and more digital rights to movies, having just inked a deal with Dreamworks to stream the company’s movies and shows instantly, starting in 2013. This comes as a glimmer of hope for Netflix subscribers, still panicking from the impending Starz split. And lest we not forget has an online catalog that is unparalleled by any other rental company, DVD or streaming-based.

This very nicely sums up why the prices and plans have changed drastically in the past few months. Netflix’s numbers from Q2 and Q3 have suggested that DVD shipments have pretty much peaked, as 75% of new subscribers as of September 1 have been opting for stream-only plans. Has Netflix kill the DVD rental?

Not yet. It’s pure speculation, but it seems like this is another part of Hastings’ plan to move entirely to only streaming movies. Introducing Qwikster as a separate entity with a separate rental plan wedges even more the divide between DVDs and VODs (videos on demand).

Luke Marchetti, legal counsel to FilmBuff, a digital film curation website, believes Netflix could be pushing for huge profits for Q4 by promoting the many stream-ready devices that support its movies. “Be ready to see all the retailers upselling streaming devices this Black Friday and Christmas season. Netflix is going to want a Wii in every subscriber’s home and a blu-ray player under every Christmas tree. They’re gearing for their biggest Q4 profits yet, and I think it’s going to happen.”

And Qwikster plans to make video game rentals available too. What better to supplement your sweet Xbox 360 from Santa than with a $15.98 Netflix/Qwikster subscription?

But all this may come as more of a WOMP than a WOW for stream-savvy movie lovers. Why is everybody hating on the DVD? Sure, sales went down 20 percent during the first quarter of 2011, and it feels like rental kiosks are popping up left and right like weeds in a vegetable garden. With Netflix splitting in two, shoving a bag over its DVD-shipping twin’s head and renaming it Qwikster, we gotta wonder when discs became so passe.

The term ‘instant’ has fully taken on a life of its own. It’s not enough to drive to the local video store, rent a movie and slip it in the DVD player that night; we need to be able to access it from any computer with an IP address. We must be able to catch up on 30 Rock or Mad Men with a flick of the Wii controller. God forbid we walk further than the wall socket only to recharge our laptops while we watch an artsy or romantic flick; even the mailbox has become too far out of our (desire’s) reach.

As great as having 100,000+ movie titles available at the click of the mousepad is, don’t forget the good old positives of popping in a DVD for movie night. Deleted scenes, directors’ commentary, interactive games, behind the scenes and the like are becoming less appreciated and collecting dust at your local Best Buy while you’re stuffing your face with Chinese takeout watching reruns of South Park on your computer.

Maybe Qwikster won’t be such a bad guy after all. 


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