Note: this message was written months ago, and I just left unposted. It largely still applies.
The Lovely Lara and I have literally not rented anything from the video store in years. Rather than pay the rental price then having to worry about returning things on time, we were buying used video tapes, watching them when we needed something to watch, and then mailing them off to mom for her to watch and/or donate to her local old folks home.
Several things have changed our situation recently. For one, mother has moved from Alaska to Texas, which means that she now has TV reception so she has a better source of video entertainment. It also means she’s not near the old folks home for recycling the tapes. Meanwhile, we were relying less on the tapes for entertainment (they ended up being watched mainly during Nat’s exercise period) and ever more on the material captured by the ReplayTV. The birth of our child, Somebody, generated more TV-watching hours (it’s something one can do while holding a sleeping or feeding baby, plus Lara has more hours at home for the next few months) while a lackluster new TV season generated a shortage of material to fill that time.
So we cancelled some little-used TV channels, which left more than enough for the monthly charge of $17,99 for the basic Netflix all-you-can-rent system. I love their business model. Basically, you keep a list of the DVDs you want to rent in the order that you want to rent them. They send you three disks to start, in pre-paid return postage mailers. Whenever you return one, they send you think next available disk from your list (and so far, that’s always been the very next thing on our list). Drop a disk in the mailbox Tuesday morning and the postman will probably have a new disk for you on Thursday. They don’t process disks on the weekend, and if you’re generally watching your DVDs after the postalfolk have finished their pickups for the day, you can’t quite pull off having a different DVD to watch every night. You’ll max out at about 5 a week, maybe 22 a month. For eighteen bucks. No tax. No late fees.Watching the things you want to watch, from an insanely huge collection (25,000 different disks, about five times what a real good video store will have.) All kinds of old movies. All the latest releases, before they hit HBO. All those HBO series, once they hit DVD.
And yeah, TV shows make up a fair portion of the things on our list. At the moment, we have the first disc of the second Wiseguy arc, the one with Kevin Spacy (a favorite of Lara’s.) We’ve already watched the first disc of HBO’s Six Feet Under.
On our waiting list are discs of Firefly (SF from the creator of Buffy), the BBC comedy Yes, Minister, and the Wodehouse adaptation Jeeves and Wooster. Cherry-picking the best of TV to augment the few good current shows, watching them with various extras and no ads, that makes me happy. Plus, a disk of TV has more minutes of key enertainment material than a typical film, so I’m getting my $17.99 worth.
That brings an odd point: the rental is by the disk. Now, you’re probably used to that with TV show disks at the local rental shop, but it’s a little odd when it comes to a special edition film. Rent the movie, and then decide whether you want to rent the disk of extras. I already have the “extras” disk for the new deluxe Shawkshank Redemption on the list. I don’t need to see the movie, which I’ve seen plenty of times (like most of the movies that did little in the theater but became big in the video market — A Christmas Story, Office Space, and so forth — I was one of the few who saw it in the theater), but I’d like to see the extras.
So far, the only problem we’ve had is that they delivered Wiseguy Season 1 Part 2 Disk 2 in the sleeve that was supposed to have Wiseguy Season 1 Part 2 Disk 1. We’ve gone through about half a dozen disks, and we’re still not at the end of our two week free trial period.
Looking at the figures: these guys have a good thing going. They’ve got over two million subscribers. They offer them a lot of rentals, access to a ton of movies. Folks watch about twice as many disks than they used to rent. 25,000 titles, sixteen million DVDs, and it looks like there’s room for a good profit in those eighteen bucks.