The video rental business suffered a blow as Dish announced last week it would shut down all of its remaining Blockbuster stores in the United States by January 2014. The closure will affect around 300 remaining retail outlets, as well as the company's distribution centers, and its DVD-by-mail service will cease in mid-December.
"This is not an easy decision, yet consumer demand is clearly moving to digital distribution of video entertainment," Dish President and CEO Joseph Clayton said in a statement. "Despite our closing of the physical distribution elements of the business, we continue to see value in the Blockbuster brand, and we expect to leverage that brand as we continue to expand our digital offerings."
It was the rise of digital offerings that ultimately killed Blockbuster. And Netflix could be next. Some analysts predict Netflix will slowly cut back its DVD-by-mail service, and in fact, it has already closed a third of its U.S. distribution centers. About the only place left to rent a DVD is at a Redbox kiosk at your local 7-Eleven. (At least you can still buy your candy at the same time.)
But compared to Blockbuster, the Redbox selection is small. It's time to switch to digital. With so many outlets offering downloadable or streaming movies, it can be overwhelming to find a movie. And you'll have to have the equipment to play the movies, which means a high-speed Internet connection, a well-placed wireless router and a device that's capable of streaming movies to your television. (If you're content watching on your computer, iPad or phone, you won't need a device such as a Roku or Apple TV connected to the TV. But if you want a big-screen experience, you'll need a media player or a TV with built-in Internet connectivity.)
Here's a guide to the most popular providers, pricing and the perks that could win your patronage.
Netflix boasts more than 30 million streaming service subscribers who each pay $8 a month for unlimited viewing. Netflix offers thousands of movies, but it's unlikely you've heard of most of them. Last May, the company's licensing deals with MGM, Universal, and Warner Bros. expired. So if you're a James Bond fan, you'll have to look elsewhere. However, Netflix has one of the best offerings of television series and has poured millions into original programming. Better yet, there's no advertising.
Hulu Plus is similar to Netflix, but offers more current TV shows. There are several problems with the service. First, shows such as those from Food Network are not available on Hulu Plus, only on Hulu (the free version), which can be viewed on computers only -- no TVs or mobile devices. Further, while you'll pay $8 a month for Hulu Plus, you'll still see ads, and plenty of them.
Amazon Prime could be the best value available. For $79 a year -- $6.59 a month -- you get free unlimited access to a wide variety of movies and TV shows, as well as one free Kindle e-book a month (you can use the Kindle app on your computer, iPhone, iPad or Android device if you don't own a Kindle) and free two-day shipping on most items ordered from Amazon. You'll also be able to easily rent current movies from Amazon Instant Video and save $1 apiece compared with Apple's iTunes rental fees.
A Verizon-Redbox partnership, Redbox Instant offers more ways to watch a movie than the other services. You can reserve a movie at your local Redbox kiosk and rent or buy on-demand movies from the website. With a $8 a month subscription, you have unlimited access to a streaming movie collection, plus four DVD rentals from a kiosk each month. However, there are no TV shows and the movie selection is fairly limited, albeit more current than other services.
And then there's always Blockbuster On Demand, where you can stream movies for $3 apiece on your computer, mobile device or through a Roku connected to your TV.
Still, the only way to see a brand new movie in all its giant-screen glory is to go to your local movie theater. Yes, the tickets are expensive and the price of popcorn is outrageous, but today's extravagance could seem like a bargain tomorrow.
Earlier this year at a panel discussion at the University of Southern California, famed filmmaker George Lucas predicted going to the movies in the future would be like going to a Broadway show -- an outing that could cost up to $150 a ticket. So, what's playing at Walker Cinemas?
Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past six years. She has designed and manages several international websites. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at email@example.com.