Blockbuster vs. AppleTV

I use Blockbuster Online, and I love it. Apple TV and downloadable rentals that I can transfer to my iPod sounds even better than getting DVDs in the mail, but I don’t own one. The Blockbuster subscription plan works well for me and is cheaper than the $229 required for the Apple TV. I have been using Blockbuster online for over 2 years and rented over 200 movies. If that seems like a lot, I am counting TV show DVDs in that count as movies as well, and we have a few minor addictions.


I have spent about $300. That is about as much as an original Apple TV (and does not include the rented movies). If I did the same for the next two years (assuming Apple does not create a subscription model), my cost would be at least $800. But this article isn’t about the cost of an Apple TV. Nor is it about the added benefits of DVDs over digital downloads that Bob talked about a couple weeks ago (and take the time to watch the alternate ending of “I Am Legend” if you haven’t, it is amazing).

It seems that Blockbuster is trying to compete with the Apple TV by creating their own set top box. Netflix announced in January that they are working with LG to make an Apple TV competitor also.

I think it is great that Blockbuster and Netflix stepped up to the plate (allbeit a little late) to offer some competition to the Apple TV. The competition will force Apple to continue innovating and creating a better product. I sincerely hope that if Blockbuster is in fact making a digital download box, they are going to offer a subscription model similar to their Blockbuster Online service.

The problem with competition, though, is that there will be at least four set top boxes that you can download movies to: Apple TV, Vudu, Blockbuster, and Netflix. That is all well and good if they each have support from all the major studios. Frustration arises when consumers want to watch a Universal movie, and Universal decides they want to support Blockbuster and Vudu, but I only have an Apple TV. I do not want to have to buy four different boxes to be able to watch movies. If the movie studios don’t play favorites, all that competition will benefit consumers. If they do play favorites, it is going to get real old real fast.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a few exclusives here and there that differentiate the product, and I probably won’t hear about those unless I have the exclusive player. For example, I see a lot of “Blockbuster Exclusive” movies, but I don’t miss those that are “Netflix Exclusive” movies (if there are any). Now, if I don’t miss those exclusives, will I miss the movie studios? Well, if Nickelodeon’s movie studio doesn’t support my player, I think I might live, but to not have access to any of one of the major studios’ movies would certainly be annoying.

Is there room for multiple players in this market, or must we all bow down to the Blu standard? There has to room for multiple players because digital media distribution is a different animal than high definition DVDs. Compatibility (or availability) of alternate methods of viewing the content (computer, iPod, or whatever else may be available on the horizon, wink, wink streaming iPhone media content) is not something we expect from DVDs, unless we know of a killer app that makes watching movies on those devices very easy. We do expect digital media to be able to transfer to another device. Even our DRM music and videos can at least go between the computer, Apple TV, and our iPods. We don’t expect to be able to put our DVDs in our iPods, and therefore, we want one standard so that we don’t have to buy a bunch of different players.

Apple TV does have a corner on the personal media player, set top box, and computer triangle. This simple fact could exclude Vudu, Netflix, and Blockbuster from the runnings. Those three companies would have a hard time edging themselves into the computer market (say nothing of the PMP market).

Help me out here: am I missing anything? What else do consumers need to make digital downloads from multiple carriers worthwhile?


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