Blockbuster’s New Service Isn’t a Qwikster Killer. At Least Not Yet.

By  |  Friday, September 23, 2011 at 11:04 am

I just attended a press conference hosted by Dish Network and its Blockbuster division, where they announced Blockbuster Movie Pass, a service with discs-by-mail (including Blu-Ray and games at no extra charge), unlimited on-demand streaming to TVs and PCs, and more–for $10 a month. Sounds like a formidable competitor to the service formerly known as Netflix, which is about to be divvied into Netflix and Qwikster. Except it turns out that Dish isn’t announcing anything aimed at consumers who have cable or who want to cut the cord–Movie Pass is for Dish subscribers (and includes twenty channels of live movie programming via satellite as well as its other stuff).

If Dish had managed to come out with something more directly competitive with Netflix/Qwikster during the worst PR week in that company’s history, it would have been a huge coup. Instead, Movie Pass looks like it might appeal to current Dish subscribers or folks who were flirting with getting the service anyhow, but it won’t prompt unhappy Qwikster campers to leave in droves.

Dish does say that it’ll announce a version of Movie Pass that doesn’t require satellite service soon, but it’s not a given that it’ll be able to blow away Netflix/Qwikster. For one thing, the $10-per-month charge (which includes one disc at a time) is made possible by the economics of Dish’s existing agreements with content owners; anything it can offer to non-Dish subscribers will cost more. Also, it isn’t yet competing with Netflix in terms of sheer volume of streaming content: It’s starting with 3,400 movies and TV shows streamable to TVs via a Dish box and 4,000 streamable to PCs, vs. tens of thousands of titles available on Netflix.

Oh, and there aren’t Blockbuster streaming apps for iPhones, iPads, and Android phones yet, although it sounds like they’re in the works.

Blockbuster already has movie rentals and purchases over the Internet, including newer titles not available with the all-you-can-watch service. (Last time I tried it, it was very disappointing–it didn’t even fully support Windows 7–but it may have improved.) The company didn’t announce any integration between this service and Movie Pass today, but that too seems like an area where it could beat Netflix, which doesn’t have any options for people who are willing to pay more to stream the latest stuff.

I still hope that Netflix/Qwikster repairs its current unhappy relationship with a meaningful percentage of its customers, but it’s going to take a while. (Assuming it doesn’t reverse course on the split-up, we won’t really know its full impact until the deed is done.) But the fact that the company that killed Blockbuster is giving Blockbuster the opportunity to kill (or at least wound) it is a remarkable turn of events.

I wonder how quickly Dish/Network can come up with a no-Dish version of Blockbuster Movie Pass, and just how compelling they could make it?

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