Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Blockbuster vs. Netflix

I was going to write about the ongoing JOHN ADAMS miniseries on HBO but decided to put that off and jot down a few thoughts on Blockbuster vs. Netflix.

I’m a latecomer to the Peabody Award­–winning series on the SciFi Channel, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. The show is in its fourth and final season. I watched the last few episodes of the previous season last week and I’m familiar with the series plot just by keeping up with show biz news in general. After seeing the Season 4 premiere, I went to Blockbuster to catch up and get Season 1 Disc 1. I watched it on the laptop with headphones. Great audio and video production values and probably the best acting ensemble in science fiction television with veteran thesps like Edward James Olmos (Cmdr. Adama) bringing up the perfs of the less experienced crew members.

I went back to Blockbuster, which last week had the complete series on DVD, to get Season 1 Disc 2. The single copy they had was out. Usually I delay gratification, but I went home and signed up for Netflix and put BSG Season 1, Discs 2-5 on my queue, plus CURB YOUR ENTHUSUASM Season 6.

Netflix has also come up with a new killer app, as if having what Blockbuster stores don’t carry isn’t enough. Now you can download a subset of their selections on your computer via streaming, with no waiting for the entire film to load or clog up your hard drive. I tried it out and the program crashed when I tried to go full-screen on RED DWARF 8. I had just loaded the viewer so perhaps a reboot will fix this problem.

Blockbuster has its own Netflix-like mail service, which they started a little too late to catch up with the competition. I don’t know if the Netflix streaming service will increase their selection in the future but streaming gives them an awesome advantage over Blockbuster.

I recalled banking online with Citibank in the early ‘90s, dialing via modem in terminal mode, accessing their computer with a 212 number, lightning fast response for the most part. As the years went on, Citibank never lost their lead in sophistication over the other banks’ online services. Ironically, the service was faster on text only, 28.8K modems than on any modern graphic-laden browser. It was a sad day when they discontinued Direct Access. The program fit on a single floppy.

Blockbuster has been closing stores and for awhile it looked like they were putting most of their effort into starting up the mail service. Unless they make a strong response to Netflix’s streaming service, I don’t see how they will survive. If they do intend to keep the stores going, they should keep more than one copy of hot TV shows in stores, or find a way to check what’s popular and triage a few more copies in there. About half of the three seasons of GALACTICA was out. Like my old boss Mr. Ron Gettinger used to say when I ran the toy department in a small Woolworth’s, “Don’t ever run out of the Batmobile.”

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