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A Cool New Way to Get Your Flicks

 By David Cotriss  (davidcotriss@wwwiz.com)

By now you're probably very familiar with DVDs and their exceptional quality. The popular format is making traditional VHS tapes seem old-fashioned. Not surprisingly, a handful of companies have sprung up to offer online DVD movie rentals allowing you access to movies without having to set foot in a video store. One of the largest and most widely publicized online DVD rental sites is found at http://www.netflix.com.

          Netflix.com, launched in April 1998, was the first company to offer online DVD rentals. The company has raised more than $50 million in venture capital, and has been featured in major publications such as the Hollywood Reporter, New York Times and Billboard magazine. The Los Gatos-based firm has more than 8,500 titles from which to choose, claiming to carry the largest selection of DVDs.

The site is well designed, easy to use and loaded quickly on my 56K modem at all times. The home page features major new releases and navigational tabs for quick location of interest areas, such as comedy, science fiction and reviews. You can also just browse. Major categories are broken down, including such categories as ``Academy Award Winners," ``The Greatest DVDs On Earth," and ``Physical Comedy." (These categories change frequently.)

          Each movie on the site is accompanied by reviews from previous renters/viewers, similar to Amazon.com's book review process. Case covers are also shown to give you that ``in the store" browsing feeling. You can, of course, search for a particular movie title (also by actor or director). A search for ``Robert Redford" returned 20 matches, ranging from ``Twilight Zone #1" in 1962 to ``The Horse Whisperer" in 1998, all arranged in date order.

          You'll find other useful features, such as personalized recommendations based on your rental habits and preferences. Expert movie reviewers also offer their picks, and you can access lists of the top 10 rentals, upcoming releases and special features. Choosing a movie is very easy, with a ``Rent Movie" and ``Buy Movie" button next to each selection. When viewing each movie's description, you'll also find a ``Remind Me" button that will add the movie to your list for possible rental later. Similar movies are also listed next to each selection for quick reference.

          Pricing is reasonable. Until March 23, 2000, rentals were available for seven days for about $5 per rental including shipping, very comparable to physical stores. However, Netflix.com has discontinued its seven-day rentals and now exclusively offers its Marquee rental program. For $19.95 a month, you can rent up to four DVDs at any given time, return them whenever you want, and never pay per-movie costs, shipping charges or late fees. The first month is free, allowing you to try the program first. Thus, for what it would normally cost to rent four movies for seven days, you can rent dozens in a month if you return them fast enough (as soon as you return a movie, the next one on your list is shipped). Hard-core moviegoers will enjoy this feature, but you may find it a bit expensive if you just want to rent one movie.

No review of the site would be complete without a first-hand report on how well the service works. I decided to order three movies (before March 23), all recently released: ``The Bone Collector," ``Instinct," and for something at the opposite end of the spectrum, the 1999 Matthew Broderick teen comedy ``Election." The process was very easy with few snags. The site is equipped with a shopping cart, so adding movies is no problem. The only problem was after choosing a movie and hitting the ``Continue Shopping" button, an error message appeared and I couldn't proceed. This was easily resolved by hitting the ``Back" button on my browser and going back to the home page, but an inconvenience nonetheless.

          Movies are shipped separately as they become available, and I was pleasantly surprised when all three movies arrived two days later, despite a message when I ordered saying one of my titles would be delayed up to seven days. Movies come in their own mailers, and each includes a postage-paid return mailer for quick and easy return.

          Overall, you'll find Netflix.com a fun, fast and easy way to rent your favorite movies. It's an example of how the Internet is changing the way things are done. So now, no matter how hectic your life is, quick DVD rentals are just a mouse click away. Check your mailbox and don't forget the popcorn.

 

David Cotriss specializes in marketing/advertising, about which he has published dozens of magazine and Web articles and offers consulting services. He can be reached at cotriss@inow.com.

 

 

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