Through multiple press releases and interviews in 2012’s third and fourth quarters (July-December for you non-business folks), a number of high-ranking executives for Verizon and Coinstar (owner of Redbox) state that the Redbox Instant service, currently in customer BETA testing, would focus on quality over quantity.
“Do you really need 100,000 titles? I mean, really,” said Paul Davis, CEO of Coinstar.
As I wade through the RB Instant library, I’m glad Davis stuck to his word, offering such featured titles as “Soccer Nanny (unrated)”, “Demonic Toys 2”, and “Biebermania”. Upon further investigation into the library, which will be available to subscribers for $8 per month, I discovered the well-honed tastes of Davis and others comes out in spades with a plethora of B-, C-, and even D-list thriller and horror titles, with little else to distract viewers.
Alright. I jest. I have no idea of that which Davis calls quality entertainment. However, based on that which has been made readily available during this BETA test, it’s hard to imagine that RB Instant will pose any sort of threat to Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu (especially since Redbox currently has no plans to add TV shows to its concoction).
The service does offer a few recognizable titles (using “few” in its strictest definition), including “Thor”, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”, “Rango”, and the recent remake of “True Grit”. Sadly, (and I’m being 100 percent sincere about this) beyond those four films, there are only a handful of additional movies that I recognize. Plus, all four listed above are already available on Netflix AND Amazon Prime.
Before I rag on this service TOO much, there are two additional tiers to the RB Instant account: monthly Redbox kiosk credits, and the ability to pay-to-rent and/or purchase videos electronically.
First, the RB Instant subscription, as I’ve stated before, runs you $8 per month and includes four DVD rental credits to be used at any Redbox kiosk. At roughly $1.20 per DVD (plus tax), you’re technically investing more than half of that $8 on DVD rentals, while throwing $3.20 at the subscription service, which actually starts to explain the quality of films available for streaming. The RB Instant site really hammers it home that you will receive four free DVD rentals, which means you will most likely experience an additional charge if you opt for Blu-rays (usually about $1.50 at the kiosk).
From afar, this piece of the puzzle seems appealing, as everyone likes getting something for nothing. However, at its core, it is a contradiction to the service’s name: Redbox INSTANT. Through most of my Redbox kiosk experiences, very little has ever been instant. Limited and/or poor selections at my nearby locations, not to mention long lines, have deterred me multiple times from using the service spontaneously; in my world of movie consumption, pre-selecting and reserving a movie is like picking a restaurant for dinner at 12:30 PM. I really don’t know what I want until I’m hungry. That’s why I already ditched the Netflix DVD delivery service. I have yet to utilize the four credits bestowed upon me, but as you can probably understand, I’m hesitant. I’ll give it the ol’ college try this week and will give an update IF my experience differs from the norm.
The remaining feature is the ability to purchase or pay-to-rent films electronically. This service is not available on Netflix, but has been a part of Amazon Prime since its release and is also a large part of the Apple iTunes store experience.
The renting aspect is fairly straightforward: I would pay $X amount for a film, either in standard- or high-definition, and then I can watch it when I want within a 30-day window. As soon as I start to watch it, I have 48 hours to complete it as many times as I want. Standard stuff. However, there is little to no documentation as to the purchase process. From the looks of it, I’m not even sure the movie is technically downloaded. I believe, if I’m reading the site correctly, that it just goes into my RB Instant library, and can only be viewed with an Internet connection. Not much of a selling point there.
I also reviewed pricing, and found RB Instant tends to charge MORE for both rentals and purchases. I picked a few titles at random (“Ted”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”, and “Juan of the Dead” [yes, it’s a real movie]), and here’s what I found:
Across the board, RB Instant is more expensive than Amazon Prime and iTunes. In some cases, it is cheaper to rent or purchase the HD version from either Amazon Prime or iTunes versus the SD version via RB Instant. No points awarded there.
Before I wrap things up, I know some folks out there will want to know about the user interface, as the ease of use is a big part of the streaming game. Here’s my take: it isn’t bad, but there’s nothing new there. I tested the web site, as well as the iOS app, and I found nothing special about it. It comes across as cluttered, like most streaming sites, and includes the hover-over for cryptic descriptions.
I did find one major fault to the site that rubbed me the wrong way. Every time I performed a search query for a new movie, multiple entries for said movie would pop up, forcing me to sift between the physical, Redbox kiosk copy, and the digital copy, which was usually buried beneath the former. On some occasions, I had to run multiple attempts to locate that which I sought. As the search occurred on the Instant site, I had hoped (and assumed) that the digital copy would trump the physical.
Also, you cannot purchase or pay-to-rent movies on the iOS app. A lot of people will see value in that, so to prevent unintentional pocket purchases, but it stinks if you’re on the road, or out and about and want to watch something new. It’s a nit-picky issue, but it’s something that can be completed elsewhere through alternate services.
Based on the hype surrounding the service, as well as statements provided by leadership leading up to the release, I had high expectations for this service, and RB Instant has fallen short. Buffering does not yet have an in-house rating system, but RB Instant has set the bar for how low it can go. The most positive thing I can say about RB Instant right now is that the first month is free, and it includes the four DVD credits. However, I am setting a reminder on my calendar to cancel my subscription the day before my month is up, because I have no want or need to keep it.
My recommendation to you is to exploit the loophole, get four free rentals, and cancel it too. Otherwise, it is not worth your time. Most, if not all, of its library and features are available elsewhere.