UK Consumers still getting a poor deal for on-demand video

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In order to further safeguard its future, HMV has just recently launched HMV On-Demand - a video streaming / download service running on the FilmFlex Movies Platform. This service introduces further competition to iTunes and LoveFilm, and comes just ahead of the 2012 launch of American video behemoth Netflix. There are of course numerous other movie services through set-top boxes and consoles - such as Movies on the Play Station 3, but the big four are seen to be Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and iTunes. Amazon of course recently bought up LoveFilm, which makes up its European offering.

I must admit that I used to be a huge fan of Blockbuster Video Stores, and if there was one next door to me, I would probably still use it, as they still have by far and away the best range of movies, have the earliest release dates, and their price point is only £2.99. Apple iTunes currently has downloads only - you can start viewing progressively at 10-15 minutes in, but it’s not streaming, this is at £3.49 for standard definition, and £4.49 for high definition where available (Older films are at £2.49 and specials at £0.99). LoveFilm has a subscription service also at £5.99 per month, with some films only available on subscription, and new films are typically at £3.49, with older ones at £2.49 - on a par with iTunes. The issue for me on LoveFilm is that it’s overly fussy and overly complex - giving you different options to rent DVD, watch online, sign up for subscription, buy on Amazon etc. Moreover, beyond the optional subscription it offers no great advantage over iTunes as it pretty much has the same fairly slim selection of films which are largely made available for rent a week or two after Blockbuster.

HMV has gone against the grain by launching at a higher level one tier standard price of £3.99 - it’s not clear yet as to what the quality of the stream is though. For HMV you can of course download to watch, as well as stream directly. Again, browsing through their library - there are still enormous holes in the catalogue, although I could find some films here that were not listed on iTunes or LoveFilm.

The point is that the old format - DVD - which is ’Blockbuster’ really still has by far and away the best selection and the best price. Online video has the advantage of convenience, but why should there be a premium on what is essentially a diminished service in many ways? Especially when the titles appear much much later online for rental.

I fear that much like the music industry, the online video market is becoming increasingly fragmented. Why can we not have a straightforward replacement for Blockbuster? Where we can rapidly access the full range of available films at a reasonable price point. It seems that Digital Rights Management is getting over-fussy, resulting in certain titles only being available for rent for a few months, before becoming only available for purchase - i.e. no longer rentable.

I wait with considerable hopes and expectations to see what Netflix can offer into this arena - surely someone can provide a wholly digital replacement for Blockbuster with all the other service elements intact? iTunes currently acts as my video rental of choice - but its slim and variable selection frequently causes me annoyance and means I have to shop around for certain titles.

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