- By Justin Case

So... Those of you that are NetFlix members can rest assured that the scrappy start-up (despite having 2,000,000 members -- it's is still a "start-up") will still be a robust and thriving service... even after Amazon buys them.

What?

OK... Maybe not Amazon, maybe Ebay!

Bottom line is that the little first-comer can't and won't stand-up under long-term attack from the big guys. Blockbuster has launched its online DVD rental program, nationwide and Wal-Mart has been running full-tilt on their offering for over a year now.

So, I was an early NetFlix subscriber. I liked it, yeah, but the problem is that all I ended up getting from NetFlix was JUNK! See, you have the movies you love to see and gotta have. Those, you buy at Wal-Mart on special (i.e. below cost) during the first week of their release. Once you own those, there are the next tier of movies that you want to see, but won't buy. Those are the same ones that everyone wants to see, but won't buy, so they're always long wait status. Next, you have the crap. These are the movies that you thought would be cool to see, but you don't really care if you do or not.

The problem is that it's the crap that ends up sitting on your shelf above that handsome Philips 23" LCD and DVDR. How long will it sit there? 4 weeks? 8 weeks? One thing's damn sure. It'll sit there until you either:

1) watch it (sometimes agonizingly, trying to make yourself get through it just for the sense of accomplishment);

2) watch part of it, before rejecting it and sealing it in that little mailer for a quick-trip back; or

3) seal it up and ship it back with a hearty "harumph", indignant over the fact that you've been paying $20+ a month to let that crap collect dust on your shelf.

So... Now, Blockbuster's in the game (and, I hear, there are rumblings that Hollywood Video is thinking of making a play). Hell, maybe Hollywood Video will do what they did in the dot.com heyday and by NetFlix (for those of you who may not remember, they bought Reel.com, an early video sale pioneer and killed it...taking well over $100 million write-off before turning the site into a declining wannabe. Nice job, Mark (Wattles, HLYW's chairman, founder and CEO).

At any rate, what will make Blockbuster's attempt any better? Nothing, really. I tried Wal-Mart out, too. After 3 weeks of frantic turn-around on the discs they sent, I was back to... you guessed it... crap and I canceled my subscription. Now, with Blockbuster, I've got 30 discs in my queue and have had the distinct displeasure to sit through Johnson Family Vacation before I got reasonably lucky and found a moderately enjoyable Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and a passable Jersey Girl.

Aw... hell! I've been here before. This is the calm before the crap, to be sure. I look at my queue and I'm not terribly enthused about what's left on there (some 35 titles, in all). At least I can say that at just a penny under $20, the price is better than NetFlix and, for heavy renters that don't mind waiting for the miserably slow USPS delivery, is better than paying for nightlies at the local store. Maybe even better, though, would be Blockbuster's Freedom Pass (not available at all stores). This little membership lets you have all the benefits of Netflix (no late fees, etc.) without the mail. You can take the movies out of the local store and return them when you damn well please. Since there's no queue, you can be smart and show up early on a Tuesday and take your movies off the shelf right after they show up. Then, you'll always have what you want when you want it.

Damn fine idea. Now if that local franchise operation would get with the program, I'd be well on my way! But alas, in this tiny town, considered a getaway haven for the glitterati, I'm relegated to the whims of the intellectually diminutive local franchisee... He's probably the same kook that owns the local bagel shop and thinks its OK to close it up at 2:00 in the afternoon and never open on Sundays!

But, I digress. The bottom line is that DVD rental via mail is a decent concept and will surely continue to grab a portion of the public's hard-earned entertainment dollars. It will never be more than a niche part of the overall rental picture. Let's face it, until we have a full-blown DVD-quality download service, we'll not be giving up our disc rental options any time very soon.

NetFlix may still be the leader "online", but with Blockbuster's 65 millions card-holders, it is only a matter of not too much time before they're the behemoth. Wal-Mart may be, though, one to watch...as they spread their good cheer and discount pricing to the "great, unwashed masses". At least I don't have to actually go to Wal-Mart to be a Wal-Mart customer now... Although for the time being (until the crap stacks itself too deep on my shelf), I'll be using Blockbuster.

Coming soon, I'll give you my thoughts on the download services, including CinemaNow and MovieLink.

Till next time...

Don't forget to check out the cool digs that Philips sent me to install in my "hibernation-chamber"...

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Philips 23" LCD TV
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Philips DVDR615 DVD Recorder
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