By Kelli B. Grant
Consumers have reacted swiftly — and negatively – to Netflix’s new, higher prices.
“It’s been a 95% negative reaction,” says Dan Rayburn, a principal analyst with Frost & Sullivan. That’s no surprise, considering that many subscribers stand to pay an extra $72 per year under the new plans, without any change in service.
Pay Dirt heard from plenty of readers who have already cancelled their subscriptions, or said they planned to scale back their plans. “It’s been great Netflix, but I think it is time we see other people,” wrote one reader.
That’s actually not a bad idea.
Even before the price hike, the rental and streaming market has seen new competition — including plenty of free content — that makes it a smart idea to shop around. There’s no easy one-stop-shopping, however, so be prepared to pick a few movies here, a few TV shows there based on price and selection. Keep in mind, too, that the best service may also depend on what kind of TV, Blu-ray player and other devices you use.
Kiosk rentals: Redbox, Blockbuster Express and a handful of local competitors offer new releases and popular titles for $1 per night via kiosks at supermarkets, drugstores and other locations. Sign up for the email newsletter and text offers, and check sites like RetailMeNot.com for promo codes — they can drop the price to 50 cents, or even yield free rentals. Titles selection is as limited as space in the kiosk, so review the local selection online before leaving home. Redbox can’t offer some new titles until 28 days after they’re available for purchase, under studio agreements.
Store rentals: Although in-store rental prices have dropped, they are still among the most expensive options, especially for new releases. But selection is superior to that of the kiosks. The last big chain, Blockbuster, shifted its pricing to per-day rates this spring to better compete with its cheaper kiosk competitors. Instead of $5 for a three-day rental, a one-day rental now costs $0.99 to $2.99. Last week, Blockbuster announced it would offer deals like $1.49 movie-and-soda combos until 3 p.m. on weekdays, and 49-cent rentals on Sundays until the end of the summer. Also check mom-and-pop video stores for promotions and loyalty club deals.
Mail delivery: Blockbuster was swift to decry Netflix’s price increases, but as Deal Journal points out, Blockbuster is no bargain either. Its unlimited one-at-a-time rentals cost $11.99 per month versus Netflix’s new $7.99 plan, and there’s no option for streaming. But Blockbuster allows five in-store rentals as part of its plan price, and doesn’t have the same 28-day delay on some new titles that Netflix does, which may offset the higher cost for some users. Explore local mail alternatives, too. GreenCine is a popular California-based service, and charges $9.95 for unlimited one-at-a-time plans, with access to downloadable or streamed movies.
Web rental: Apple, Amazon, and Blockbuster all offer 24-hour downloadable or streamable movie and TV episode rentals for $0.99 to $3.99. The sometimes-premium pricing is offset by the ability to prepay for a movie to watch later, say, in preparation for a long flight. (Once you start watching, the 24-hour limit kicks in.) And there are ways to cut the cost down to kiosk level. Amazon recently offered owners of the Roku streaming player a $5 credit to set up an on-demand account, and Apple offers a 99-cent “Movie of the Week.” This week it’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I,” which usually rents for $3.99.
Streaming subscriptions: A host of sites, including Hulu.com, Crackle.com and Xfinity, offer free movies and TV shows streamable to your computer or TV. Selection can be slim, and varies by site. There’s more available if you’re willing to pay. Comcast, which owns Xfinity, offers more content for cable subscribers. Hulu’s $8 per month for Hulu Plus is competitive with Netflix’s streaming only option, but the former focuses more on TV shows, while the latter on movies. Amazon has also been growing its on-demand video selection, fueled by free access to shoppers who pay $79 a year for free shipping through Amazon Prime.
Pay Dirt readers, what is your movie rental strategy?