Blockbuster Online, by Blockbuster
Posted: 6-Sep-2005

2 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Blockbuster Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: SERVICE
     
$17.99 per month    

Overview
After years of Netflix owning the market on online DVD rentals, Blockbuster has finally thrown its hat into the ring. They launched their new Blockbuster Online, providing a DVD rental service based upon a flat monthly charge, unlimited rentals, truly no late fees, and allowing a certain number of movies to be out at one time.

This review is done using Blockbuster Online running on Apple's Safari web browser.

How it Works
Blockbuster Online works very simliar to Netflix. Once your account is established, you log into the service at
http://blockbuster.com/ and add movies to your "queue". Like Netflix, you can have a certain number of movies rented out at a time, and you can keep the movies for as long as you like. As soon as you send the movie back, in a postage-paid envelope provided by Blockbuster, Blockbuster will send out the next title in your queue. You can (and should) keep movies in your queue at all times so that movies can be automatically sent as soon as rentals are returned. For 3 DVDs rented out at a time, you pay a monthly fee of $17.99.

How it Rates
One of the first things that I encountered when using Blockbuster's web site is its inability to open links in new tabs (or windows) using the contextual menu. This has something to do with the way they set up their links. There was one point in time when Netflix made a change to their website with a similar result - unable to open links in new tabs - but they must have received a lot of negative feedback (including from me), because they backed that change out in less than a week. I stayed with Blockbuster for 3 months, and this behavior persisted throughout. Since I've left the service, however, it appears that they finally caught up with the feedback, as I did notice that some of the pages now support opening links in new tabs and windows. I am unable to verify whether that's the case throughout the site, since I'm no longer a member.

It surprised me that Blockbuster would jump into the market with poorly designed website navigation, but what surprised me even more is that this powerhouse of a video rental chain would enter the online market and have far less availability than Netflix. The popular movies that they did have were almost always shown as a "Short wait" or "Long wait" (meaning that even if at the top of your queue, the movie is not sent out because they simply don't have any to send). I noticed a lot of movies that I wanted to rent that Blockbuster simply did not carry. Comparing to Netflix, nearly all the movies I couldn't find on Blockbuster were available on Netflix.

Further, finding a movie on Blockbuster is far from being a sure thing. In other words, just because the search results do not show the movie you were looking for does not mean that Blockbuster does not carry it. Blockbuster's search engine is perhaps the worst movie search engine I have ever encountered. You can put in the exact title of the movie, and the search results would provide you pages of movies, many of which do not seem to have any bearing on the search string (not in the title, or anywhere obvious), but yet not find the movie you are looking for. Oddly, if I did an actor or director search, I would see the movie listed under that actor or director. In stark contrast, I never had problems like this on Netflix. If I put in a title and search, it nearly always shows me the movie I am looking for right at the top, and I do not receive gobs of movies that don't have anything to do with my search.

In terms of turn around (aka, how fast Blockbuster gets the movies to you), Netflix wins this round as well. If I send a movie back to Netflix, they usually receive it the very next day and fill the queue position immediately. The movie that fills the position is then either shipped out that very day, or the following day. I noticed with Blockbuster that after they received a movie, the empty slot in the "movies out" list stays empty for a day or so rather than immediately filling with the next available movie. The actual mail delivery also seemed a bit slower than Netflix. I'm the kind of renter that watches immediately and sends back immediately in an effort to get the most movies possible. With Netflix, I am able to watch a lot more movies than with Blockbuster due to the faster turn around.

Some other nitpicks: Blockbuster's web site required me to log in each time I visited their site. I found this very annoying. For accounts like this that are not bank accounts, etc., I prefer an *option* to allow me to stay logged in (similar to Netflix). It simply makes it more convenient for visiting the site to quickly update my queue or rate movies. The other thing that would improve their service is for the emails that are sent out when Blockbuster receives a returned rental to have a link that lets you jump immediately to rate the movie (a feature that the Netflix service includes). Without that automatic link, you have to remember to rate it, and then you need to find the movie on the website (see above rant on Blockbuster's search engine).

At this point, my hopes to find a better alternative to Netflix were being quickly tossed to the sea. Due to the issues already discussed, I knew that I was not going to be a switcher. With that said, there are some features of Blockbuster's service that I really did like, features that Netflix does not have. First of all, you get two free retail store rentals each month. This is a fantastic feature, allowing you to find that popular movie you want to watch on the very day that you want to watch it (aka, do not have to wait for mail delivery). The other feature I like is really just a nicety, and that's the ability to rate movies with half stars. Netflix provides a 5 star rating system so that you can rate movies that you've watched, and then you get suggestions for rentals based upon your ratings. The problem is that 5 choices (love, really like, like, not like, really not like) isn't enough. There are a lot of movies that I think are just "okay", but don't feel strong enough to "like it" or "dislike it", and there are some bad movies that deserve a "hate" (versus really didn't like). Since I am serious about rating movies, I really liked this feature. Unfortunately, these added features were not enough to overcome the other problems.


Summary
Blockbuster has launched their own online DVD rental service, attempting to provide the much needed competition to Netflix. Unfortunately, Blockbuster's service does not currently stack up against Netflix, so that needed competition is still "pending". Like Netflix, Blockbuster lets you have a certain number of DVDs rented out at a time. The DVDs are mailed to you, and you return them in prepaid pre-addressed mailers. You can keep the DVDs as long as you like, and when you return a DVD, the next movie in your queue is sent out. Blockbuster, however, is not nearly as fast as Netflix on getting your next movie out to you. Their website is slow, provides poor navigation, and their movie search engine is simply horrible. Blockbuster does provide you two free rental coupons each month that can be used at your local retail Blockbuster store, and their movie rating system allows for half-star ratings, two features that Netflix does not have. For this reason, I am hopeful that Blockbuster may some day become the competition to Netflix that consumers need, but in it's current state, I would recommend sticking with Netflix.

Pros

  • Two in-store rental coupons included each month
  • Half-star movie ratings
  • Competitive price


Cons

  • Horrible search engine
  • Slow movie turn around and delivery
  • Poor website navigation
  • Less availability of movies than Netflix


Overall Rating

2 1/2 out of 5 Mice