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Old 12-08-2005, 03:49 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Blockbuster vs NetFlix: A comparison and review

A lot of our readers are content junkies. Not just ebooks and web clips, but audio and video content also. As a result it makes sense to present a comparison between the top two (US) DVD rental options, which is what I intend to do here.

The Basics

Each company offers DVD rentals without late fees. You pay for a monthly subscription, and pick the DVDs you want to borrow on their website. You have a personal queue of requested titles, ordered by your priority. They queue also shows you the availability of the title, which might be available now, in a short while, in a long while or coming in the future.

They ship you some dvds, and you get to watch them on your time schedule, and return them in a prepaid shipping envelope. The trick is that the longer you keep it, the less dvds you get to see because you are allowed a maximum number of dvds out at one time determined by your subscription plan, up to 8 at a time for the most luxurious plan.

When they receive a returned dvd, they pick out another one from your queue and send it to you. There are never any costs to the customer for shipping. And you don't have to travel any further than your mailbox to participate.

There are free trials for both services, so you can give them a try without risking your hard earned money. Both services have greatly expanded their distribution centers, so shipping times are minimal for most areas of the country. Blockbuster had been planning to make stores into shipping locations also, but I don't know how far that plan has progressed.

One nice bonus of the Blockbuster plan is that they offer two free in-store rental coupons each month to subscribers just for that last minute movie fix.

WalMart has briefly tried to enter the market, but was not very successful. They ended up passing the business on to one of the other competitors. I think Amazon was rumored to be interested in competing also, but I don't believe they have a service. They simply send people to one of these services.

Pricing

As indicated, the price is basically a factor of how many dvds are out at any one time. If you watch a lot of dvds, then you may find that you are without titles if you choose the 2 dvd package. For example, you may receive two movies one day and return them the next. Then you have to wait for them to be returned, processed and shipped back before you can watch another dvd. Some of the least expensive plans also have a maximum number of dvds per month that are allowed.

There was also a class action lawsuit against NetFlix because they advertised unlimited rentals, but the complaint was that it's not really unlimited. Some small settlement was reached, so if you have been a NetFlix customer in the past you might want to check to see if you are eligable for a settlement (in the form of something like a free month or an additional dvd for a month if you are already a customer).

Blockbuster also offers some additional bonus coupons from time to time. A couple of times they gave me a coupon for a free used dvd, and occassionally add another free rental in-store. Very nice of them, and a nice touch that makes you feel like they really do care about customers.

I can't guarantee the pricing, but it seems that they offer the following monthly plans..

Blockbuster
8 at a time - $47.99 plus tax
5 at a time - $29.99 plus tax
3 at a time - $17.99 plus tax
2 at a time - $14.99 plus tax
2 at a time - $11.99 plus tax with 4 per month max
1 at a time - $ 9.99 plus tax

Each of these plans comes with two in-store free rental coupons per month.

NetFlix
8 at a time - just $47.99 a month
7 at a time - just $41.99 a month
6 at a time - just $35.99 a month
5 at a time - just $29.99 a month
4 at a time - just $23.99 a month
3 at a time - just $17.99 a month
2 at a time - just $14.99 a month
2 at a time - just $11.99 a month with 4 per month max
1 at a time - just $ 9.99 a month

Pricing is clearly very close between the two services.

Shipping

One of the key factors in value received is how long it takes to receive a dvd and ship the next one back to you. This will differ depending on your particular location, but here is what I have experienced from a major city.

The majority of returned dvds, say roughly 75% for NetFlix and 90% for Blockbuster are received the next day and removed from my queue.

Then Blockbuster is also slightly better at return shipping the next dvd quickly than NetFlix. In fact, when they got slow recently, they even offered me an extra dvd out at a time added to my plan for a month. This was NOT even due to a complaint on my part, but was completely handled proactively on their part. One can overlook other shortcomings a lot easier when they do nice things like that for you!

Blockbuster has some nice, and easy to use envelopes. I prefer them slightly in comparison to the Netflix envelopes, which are a little harder to open and reload for returns. But they both work fine, so no issues either way.

If you don't receive a dvd, or it's received damaged, or it is the wrong dvd then you can report it and they will send a replacement item for you.

One negative for Blockbuster here is that they have several times shipped the wrong dvd to me. That's a bit frustrating. Especially when I report it and they do it again! (Yes, that has really happened!)

So both services are pretty good, but I give the edge to Blockbuster (from my location).

DVD Quality

I have not had any problems with NetFlix dvds not being playable, but have had some issues with Blockbuster. Quite a few do come cracked or with a bubbled surface or scratched. I've rented more from Blockbuster than NetFlix so that could be the reason. The really frustrating thing is when I get a bad dvd from Blockbuster and report it, and then they send me a "replacement" that turns out to be the very same dvd with the same defect/damage.

So based on my experience so far, NetFlix wins on the DVD quality.

Customer Service

I haven't had as much opportunity to test the NetFlix customer service, so I can't say too much about it. But Blockbuster has some good and some bad. On the good side, I can say they are relatively consistent at getting back in about a business day. They appear to genuinely have the intent of serving the customer and taking care of problems. They have at times even offered me a free rental coupon in apology for their mistakes.

On the negative side, Blockbuster hardly seems to even read the text I send when I contact them. They are equipped with stock answers and I even wonder if maybe they autogenerate the responses with some kind of AI because sometimes it really doesn't seem like they read what I said. On the other hand, like I said, they have offered coupons in apology so while they may not staff for good personal customer contact, they do seem to care about keeping customers happy.

On the NetFlix side I asked a question and never received a response. Not a good sign.

This one is hard to judge due to limited experience with NetFlix, so I'll not pick a winner. But I have to say that on the whole BlockBuster customer service is simply adequate, not exceptional, but NetFlix customer service is suspect.

Website

I find that NetFlix seems to have more titles, and more titles in stock on their web site, plus the more useful information about titles. I like the way the BlockBuster queue works slightly better when trying to reorder items. I like the NetFlix queue better in how it handles But the Blockbuster site often doesn't allow you to right mouse click and open in a new window, which is a quicker way of looking at a link and returning to the original page.

They both allow you to see your queue without having to log in each time you return.

I'd have to call this one a tie, and both web sites are quite good.

Overall

Both services are really good. I like BlockBuster, but they both do their job well, and provide a great service for those who love to watch dvds.

If you have certain dvds that you just "must" have, either new releases or other popular titles that can be out of stock or missing, then you might want to go with NetFlix. If you want prompt shipping and in-store coupons, then BlockBuster has the slight edge.

Another thing to consider is that both services are evolving, and will probably be taking some quantum leaps into video on demand at some point. No, that's not a scoop, just an obvious observation. Fortunately, you don't have to sign away 2yrs of commitment like when you pick a wireless carrier, so you can afford to choose your current favorite and watch the market as it changes.

I really don't think you can go wrong with either service, and I definitely recommend either one as a hassle-free and simple way to rent dvds.
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Old 12-08-2005, 04:27 PM   #2
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This is a great review, Bob! Although prices seem to be exactly the same, Netflix has a few more options. You made it clear that both services have their pros and cons and that we don't have a true winner here. I've only used Netflix DVD rental in the past, but I might give Blockbuster a try to see if there are any local differences (I assume DVDs aren't all sent from the same distributor, are they?).
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Old 12-08-2005, 04:59 PM   #3
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Although Netflix seems to carry more titles, I had better experiences with Blockbuster's rental service. They're usually faster with delivery and I like the fact that I can use the two free in-store rentals per month at my local Blockbuster just across the street. Btw, another comparison similar to Bob's was done by CNet.
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Old 12-08-2005, 05:30 PM   #4
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Another Option - Greencine

There's at least one more similar rental service that I know about, and it may interest some people more - they're called GreenCine, and they have the exact same model but focus more on independentmovies, foreign films, anime, and also the "community" aspects of their site. They're located in San Francisco and because they're pretty small, that's the only place they ship from, so people on the East Coast might have to wait longer than with another service. I'm in the Bay Area and I get mine right away, though. The other downsides are that they charge slightly more and have lower availability of many titles. (A couple movies I've been waiting ages to have delivered.)

However, the good side is that they have a bunch of people who love film and know it well, and have built a community of people interested in helping each other fulfill their sometimes-eclectic tastes in movies. (Check out the "Member Lists" section...) The customer service is very good and much more personal than the bigger sites. They also offer Video-On-Demand for a lot of independent movies that you might not otherwise get to see... In fact, they had an entire online indie film festival this past summer. The downside is that members still have to pay an additional fee to watch VOD titles.

They also have a section called "BlueCine" that offers adult rentals and VOD, with the sort of variety you'd expect from a San Francisco-based business.

So if you're interested in discovering weird new movies or independent cinema, and don't mind paying a little extra or waiting a little longer, it's a good choice.

Last edited by bingle; 12-08-2005 at 06:45 PM. Reason: Hmm, end got chopped off
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Old 12-13-2005, 05:04 PM   #5
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Great comparison. I've used both services as well but was a member for such a short time with both of them that I can't really offer many insights. My own experience was better with Netflix. I definitely had no problem receiving movies I wanted in my list. Blockbuster was dreadful in comparison though. With about 80 movies in my queue roughly 1/4 to 1/3 might be a wait (either short or long) with Netflix. With Blockbuster it was closer to 1/2.

After a couple of times when I didn't receive the movie on my list (and then got an email saying thanks for returning it) I dropped Blockbuster. This has been a while back though so the service may be better now. The two free in store rentals a month is definitely a plus.

I'm not a member of either at the moment. I might sign up again at a lower plan. I found myself not watching enough movies to make the standard plan worth it to me.

Anyone here watch a lot of classic films? I wonder which service has a better stock.
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Old 12-14-2005, 11:51 AM   #6
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I much prefer the local variaty of this service. The local Blockbuster has two at a time unlimited for $24.99 a month. Since I only live two miles away from Blockbuster, it seems a much better deal to me.
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