Angry proclamations of Netflix cancelations have been flying around the Internet today after the streaming site announced it was hiking pricing, essentially forcing subscribers to choose between its DVD selection and its streaming plan. But where will the Netflix refugees go? We consider the alternatives…
Netflix’s biggest competitor is, and probably always will be, Blockbuster. With dual service from Netflix priced at almost $16 a month starting Sept. 1, those little red envelopes are now squarely in the range of Blockbuster’s delivery and streaming service, which ranges from $11.99-$19.99 per month. Where Netflix falters is its streaming offerings. Even better for those who decide to abandon Netflix, Blockbuster offers its movie on demand for $2-$2.99 the same day as the DVD/Blu-ray is released — a service Netflix, though free, typically delayed for weeks or months. With Blockbuster’s service, you can also reserve a copy of the disc from one of its stores — as long as you can find one of the chain’s ever-dwindling physical locations.
For those who prefer the thrill of picking out your movie in person, Redbox is the gold standard. The walk-in service — available in larger chains including Wal-mart, McDonald’s, and many grocery stores — guarantees a physical disc for just $1 a night. Sure, it’ll be twice as expensive if you want to watch a movie every night, as you could with a streaming service (which Redbox doesn’t offer). But if you factor in Netflix’s average three-day turnaround, you’re only looking at about $10 a month. Unfortunately for old school cinephiles, it’s unlike to find obscure titles and classics at Redbox, where new releases are king.
For those who simply can’t live without streaming, there’s iTunes and/or Apple TV. Apple TV, of course, comes with a hefty start-up fee ($99 for a box to link to your TV — did we mention you have to have a TV?), and each rental ranges between $0.99 for TV episodes and $3.99 for HD movies. Again factoring in the three-day turnaround, prices could range from about $30-$40/month. Then again, as streaming goes, the selection is unarguably more extensive than the competition, and it’s a lot nicer than sitting in front of your computer with your neck craned.
For hardcore streamers, Amazon Prime offers its services commercial-free for an annual fee of $79. The selection is relative paltry so far, with only 5,000 videos (many of which aren’t exactly au courant), but Amazon throws in perks like free or discounted shipping. To beef up the selection, more titles are also available at $0.99-$3.99 per rental or at purchase price. With the built-in price inflation expenditures factored in, Amazon definitely isn’t the cheapest service.
Best Buy also offers its own service, CinemaNow, which is a strictly pay-for-play deal. There’s no monthly fee, so your expenditures will fluxuate. On a Netflix diet, CinemaNow will probably run about $30 a month. Unlike the rest of the contenders, CinemaNow stands with iTunes as the only service with absolutely no advance commitment.
That dubious honor goes to Hulu Plus, which is really only an option for the most patient consumers. There’s no set-up cost if you have an PlayStation 3, Roku, or Xbox 360, and at $7.99 per month (a.k.a. the same price as Netflix’s new streaming-only or DVD-only plans), Hulu includes ads that span between 30 and 90 seconds. To which many have asked, “Then why pay at all?” (Maybe if you’re a TVaholic?) For film freaks, Hulu’s somewhat limited movie catalog is a major downside. For classic movie buffs, though, this might be a viable option solely for the site’s access to the Criterion collection.
On the flip side of Hulu Plus, mail-only GreenCine might be of interest to niche viewers for its independent, foreign, and documentary offerings. Plans start at $9.95 a month and blow Netflix (and everyone else) out of the water with an eight-DVD-at-a-time plan for $49.95 a month. Alas, there is no streaming, but that might not bother serious cinegeeks (and shut-ins) — especially with the virtually endless stream of movie options that comes with an eight-disc rotation.
And, lest we forget, there’s always the option of Average Joe cable providers. The selection favors more recent hits (read: prepare for an international flight timetable), but the possibility of not having to leave the house is indeed tantalizing. Downsides? You have to have a cable provider, which fundamentally defeats the point of streamable TV shows. That’s what DVR (at about $10 a month) is for, man.
The verdict: For all-in-one service, forking over an extra $6 or so a month for Netflix’s new plan may be the only option. Those who are more adaptable, however, have lots of options.
So, streamers and shippers, do any of these services ring your bell? Have you already canceled? Are you having red envelope ennui, or does the prospect of losing your mailbox status symbol seem sad?