In the age of campusfood, eBay and amazon.com, leaving the house has become a thing of the past. Now we can sit at home on the couch, wallowing in our own lethargy as the world's bounty is delivered right to our door. But what to watch? Netflix and Blockbuster Online now have solutions for the couch potato in all of us.
The premise of both services is very simple: for $17 and change, you can have unlimited movies -- three at a time, however -- delivered to your door without any due dates or late fees. Each DVD comes with a pre-paid envelope, so when you finish the movie, you ship it off and in a few days a new DVD will be at your door. Each program's online site has you rate the movies you've seen -- allowing them to recommend movies -- and to create and update a list from which they send your new movies. But which is really better? After speaking with spokesmen for both companies and reflecting upon personal experience, Street has the answer.
On the surface, Blockbuster Online represents a better deal for your average Penn student. "We've got a selection of 25,000 titles," explains Blockbuster spokesman Randy Hargrove. "We've got a site that's running very well, and we feel it's only going to grow over time." Blockbuster is also priced 50 cents lower than Netflix, and, explains Hargrove, "the real point of differentiation would be subscribers to Blockbuster Online get two free in-store rentals per month, and it's good for those last-minute, gotta-have-it movie rentals or game rentals." Netflix does not offer such a service, but spokeswoman Sharmez Daver sees this fact as a strength, not a weakness.
Daver believes that since Blockbuster deals with video games, in-store rentals and online rentals -- not to mention that it's a subsidiary of the conglomerate Viacom -- "they stretch themselves thin. Netflix only deals with online movie rentals, which means we have a larger selection and faster shipping for the customer." Don't believe her? Look at the numbers: While Blockbuster currently has 10 distribution hubs for their online rentals, Netflix uses 29 with another 5 on the way. In addition, Netflix receives exclusive movies like Voices of Iraq, a documentary covering the lives of more than 2,000 Iraqis in 2004. This film's theatrical release coincided with the DVD's release on Netflix.
While Blockbuster Online may offer more glamour and glitz -- the average gamer may find himself entranced by the offer of two free video games a month -- Netflix, as the field's innovator, offers the widest selection of movies and the most dependable service. Even Hargrove is willing to admit, "Netflix established the market, and we've seen that there is substantial opportunity there, and for that reason we have launched our service." Blockbuster, chasing the coat tails of Netflix, will remain an inferior service until it is able to carve its own niche in the field.