Generation Netflix

Ryan Haidet

Kent State students save money by renting movies from online video giant

It began as an idea from a man tired of paying late fees. Now it is about to reach a milestone in the movie rental industry.

Netflix announced in October that the one billionth DVD will be delivered sometime in 2007 to one of its subscribers.

That would be slightly more than three DVDs for every person in America. At the current postage rate of 39 cents, it would cost $780 million to ship one billion movies both ways.

Popularity boom

In just a few years, Netflix has changed the way many Americans rent their movies.

“In my opinion, Netflix’s greatest impact has been on video stores,” said Robert West, professor emeritus in the school of Journalism and Mass Communication. “When you have a wide choice via the Internet and mail, you don’t need to go to the video store.”

Since its launch on April 14, 1998, Netflix has grown to more than five million subscribers.

The online rental giant boasts 70,000 titles, no late fees or return dates, prepaid shipping and multiple programs ranging in monthly fees from $5.99 to $47.99.

The concept is simple. Subscribers develop a list, called a rental queue, of movies they’d like to see. When the Netflix member is finished with a movie, it is returned via mail. When Netflix receives it, the next movie from the queue is shipped.

Netflix’s most popular program is the three-at-a-time program, which is $17.99 plus tax. With this plan, subscribers can rent an unlimited amount of DVDs, having three out at a time.

Netflix on campus

A number of the billion shipped DVDs have made their way to Kent State students’ mailboxes.

Sean Wright, a senior computer science and Russian major, said no late fees and the variety of DVDs are reasons he joined Netflix.

“There’s a wider selection than they have at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video,” Wright said. “Some DVDs are more expensive, and some video stores may not have them.”

A 10-month Netflix member, Wright said he thinks a subscription to the program is worth it.

“If you want to get that new release movie, it’s better to go to Blockbuster to rent it there than waiting for Netflix to ship it to you,” he said. “It’s never for certain when it will arrive.”

A group of students in Stopher Hall share a Netflix subscription.

“Netflix in Stopher Hall started with a growing desire to watch movies on quiet weeknights early in the year,” said freshman history major Michael Agnello in an e-mail. “I put a note up on the wipe-off board outside my door asking anyone if they wanted to join, and I would randomly ask people walking through the dorms.”

Agnello’s Netflix subscription provided a cheaper way for residents to see movies, with each participant spending about $1 a month.

“The idea was to get enough people so that we each only had to pay $1,” Agnello said. “At first it started out well. I only asked people for their monthly $1 once they had rented and watched a movie of their choice.”

Keeping up with competition

In an attempt to keep up with Blockbuster’s up-and-coming online program, yesterday Netflix announced a new downloadable option that will be available to some subscribers beginning this week at no extra charge.

Customers will be able to download a limited number of movies from the Netflix site with no need to wait for the mail – just click a button to start watching a movie.

Although the idea of not waiting for movies sounds appealing, some think the quality of the picture would be diminished.

“Obviously the video will be compressed,” Wright said. “I find the quality very important. I’ll try to get the DVD version of the movie.”

If the future to rentals is downloading movies, it is likely years away. For now, mailboxes around the country will continue to be filled with the little red envelopes that many DVD addicts have grown to love.

Contact features correspondent Ryan Haidet at [email protected].