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11 September 2009 • 7:00 am

Blockbuster and Hollywood Threatened by Redbox

A Redbox kiosk outside a Walgreens. Peter Wynn Thompson for the New York Times

A Redbox kiosk outside a Walgreens. Peter Wynn Thompson for the New York Times

According to an article earlier this week in the New York Times, there will be 22,000 Redbox automated vending kiosks renting DVDs for a dollar a day by December. In the already crowded market for video rentals, Redbox and similar firms are occupying a niche between Blockbuster’s retails stores and Netflix’s rent-by-mail and nascent online streaming services.

With self-service machines, overhead is quite low. Not only do such retail stores as Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and McDonald’s welcome the foot traffic that the kiosks bring, but some are even subsidizing rentals – the article reports that Walgreens has discounts that essentially make the rentals free. So the business model combines the low overhead of Netflix (with no retail stores) with the convenience and spontaneity of any-time impulse rentals (sort of like Blockbuster). And Redbox supports the kiosks with a simple web site that enables its customers to locate machines, view the surprisingly extensive (yet limited) inventory of titles in each machine, and reserve movies online. Very low cost rentals, web-enabled browsing, same day rentals, convenient locations (movies can be returned at any kiosk, not just the one at which it was rented), in short, yet another new value proposition for video rentals.

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8 September 2009 • 7:00 am

Newsflash: Netflix CEO Likes Watching Movies – In Theatres!

the ubiquitous (and soon obsolete) red envelopes
the ubiquitous (and soon obsolete) red envelopes

The Tortoise’s interest (obsession?) with DVD rental company Netflix was renewed recently with a brief but revealing interview with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition program. 

In addition to his candid admission that he likes watching movies – especially comedies – in theatres, Hastings talks a bit about Netflix’s drive to improve its recommendation algorithms, and of course its strategy to reinvent itself (validating our earlier observation) by making obsolete it’s ubiquitous red mailing envelopes. Its future is very much tied to negotiating more deals with movie studies to stream content directly to TVs and computers. But another part of this strategy depends on increasing availability of Wi-Fi equipped televisions. Says Hastings, “I think that we’re on a trajectory over probably 10 years to have nearly everything on streaming. Not just Netflix, but other firms also — and also, to have Wi-Fi built into every television over 10 years.”

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29 July 2009 • 7:00 am

Competition and Collaboration from Netflix

Netflix prize web page

Netflix prize web page

The Tortoise’s fascination with Netflix was enhanced with the news yesterday that Netflix’s public competition to improve the effectiveness of its recommendation system has drawn to a close with two teams essentially tied for the prize. But each of the two teams are actually consortia; teams comprised of other teams. Netflix has harnessed the power of competition and collaboration to solve a challenging business problem.

Subscribers to Netflix are asked to rate (on a scale from one to five stars) each movie they’ve rented, and are even able to rate movies seen in theatres or elsewhere. The data base of millions of individual ratings are used to predict and recommend movies to individual subscribers. The system works pretty well; around two thirds of all rental decisions made by Netflix subscribers are the result of a computer-generated recommendation.

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