Canadians going online to rent movies
TORONTO (CP) – Trend-spotters have been forecasting for years the imminent extinction of the video store.
With the advent of television pay-per-view channels and digital technology that enables films to be downloaded off the Internet and burned onto DVDs for home viewing, they say, there’s really no need for the neighbourhood Blockbuster to exist.
The trouble is, movie studios aren’t co-operating with the prognosticators and continue to release their films to video stores because, in short, they make more money that way. Downloading from the Internet, as well, can be a process that takes a couple of hours.
So for now, some Canadians fed up with trudging to the video store every Friday night have found another option: websites that allow movie-lovers, for a monthly fee, to order their flicks online, receive them in the mail, watch them at their leisure without due dates or late fees and then send them back.
There are a handful of such services in Canada, including Zip.ca, Cinemail.ca and Dvdhype.com. While Blockbuster offers an online movie rental service in the United States, it hasn’t yet expanded that operation north of the border.
Satisfied customers say it’s yet another way that the Internet has simplified their lives.
Brett Tackaberry, 29, is a Zip.ca devotee. The Ottawa-based company, the biggest of its kind in Canada, recently celebrated its 10 millionth shipment with Canada Post and has a library of more than 52,000 movies and TV series, many times larger than what’s available at a neighbourhood video store.
“I used to go to Blockbuster and Rogers a lot, but I’ve just found that it just makes more financial sense and saves me a lot of time to order my movies online, just like I bank online,” says Tackaberry, who works at an Ottawa software company. “I haven’t been to a bank branch in years, and I doubt I’ll be at a video store anytime soon either.”
Zip.ca works like this: for a monthly fee – ranging from $10.95 to $49.95, depending on how many movies you want to rent at once – subscribers surf the website and choose what movies they want by creating a DVD wish list. The company mails them the flicks via first-class mail with a postage-paid return envelope, and customers can watch them when they feel like it – either that day, a month later or six months later.
When Zip.ca customers have watched their films, they send them back and order a new batch of movies.
“If you rent five or six movies a month, like I was doing, this makes a lot more financial sense and saves you the time of having to go to a video store and be greeted by a wall of movies in alphabetical order that you have to go sifting through,” Tackaberry says.
Rick Anderson, president of Zip.ca, says that when he started the company – similar to Netflix.com in the U.S. – he assumed most customers would be rural Canadians who couldn’t easily get to a video store, people who didn’t drive or older people who didn’t want to venture into the neighbourhood Blockbuster.
“But it hasn’t turned out that way at all,” Anderson says. “The majority of our members are urbanites in their late 30s, although we have members in every age group. And the No. 1 complaint they make (about video stores) is about having to return a movie that they never ended up watching. Sixty-five per cent of our members have complained that they’ve had the experience of having to return a movie that they’ve not watched.”
An added benefit, Anderson says, is the company’s pledge to find any movie that isn’t in the Zip.ca library if a customer asks for it.
“Fifteen thousand of the movies in our library are there because a customer requested it,” he says. “That means we have some really obscure and interesting titles in there that aren’t easily found at a video store.”
But Sarah Good, spokesperson for Rogers, says video stores still offer something that online rental operations cannot – the human touch.
“You want what you want when you want it, not in a few days’ time after you order the video online,” she says. “As well, we’ve got movie experts sitting in our stores ready to help you find what you need or give you the kind of hands-on customer service you can’t get from a website.”
Canadians going online to rent movies