Redbox Instant launches publicly, CEO calls original content talk premature

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Surprise! Redbox Instant by Verizon officially launched to the public Thursday, just as I had predicted in an earlier story. The launch comes after a three-month-long closed beta test that Redbox Instant CEO Shawn Strickland characterized as a great learning opportunity during a phone conversation Thursday morning. “Now we are open for business,” he added.

Redbox Instant currently offers its subscribers access to 4,600 subscription titles and four Redbox DVD rentals for $8 a month. Customers can also digitally rent or buy around 4,000 movies for a fee to augment their subscriptions with newer fare. Strickland told me that the service saw interest from “hundreds of thousands” of consumers who signed up to join the closed beta test. Tens of thousands not only joined for a free trial, but stayed around to become paying customers after their trial period ended.

So who are those Redbox Instant customers? Strickland said that the beta test confirmed the company’s belief that it was primarily catering to people who still value physical rentals. “It’s a disc plus offering,” he said, with streaming supplementing DVD rentals. That’s also reflected in the type of content the company is making available for streaming. “It clearly starts with movies,” said Strickland, adding that the focus might evolve over time.

That approach is very different from Netflix, which also started out with a movie-focused DVD service, but now invests heavily in TV content. Does that mean Netflix and Redbox are going to be complementary, as opposed to arch-enemies? My conversation with Strickland left me with the impression that he would be okay with that — as long as people are paying for his company’s service as well.

“We think that the over-the-top space will evolve very similarly to the cable and network space,” he said. Meaning: You might get your content from more than one streaming provider in the future, just like you get it from more than one cable network.

Of course, a large part of the rise of cable networks like HBO or even AMC has been the production of original content, something that has been an increasing focus of Netflix and Hulu as well. CAA agent Peter Micelli speculated a few days ago that Redbox Instant may venture into original content as well. Strickland called this kind of talk “really premature,” explaining that Redbox Instant doesn’t even have enough insights into what kind of exclusive content its subscribers could be interested in yet. But he added: “From an industry perspective, there is a clear force in that direction.”

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