February 2013 Update
I felt like I should update since I originally wrote this in 2011... I am back as a happy Netflix customer now (for a few months now). I'm working to drop using Dish Network for TV and switch entirely to OTA, web and my home library for entertainment and news. Netflix is really a key piece of that and I've always liked their service. I really only had a falling out because I didn't appreciate the way they handled the business shift. Ironically, I've always felt they were very forward looking and moving in the right direction. Hopefully, they won't do this again... <3 Netflix.
Netflix just released this video talking about their changes, included more recent changes about splitting the company. Qwikster is the name of the DVD-by-mail service now. They've acknowledged the fact that their original communication of their changes was poor and apologized for that. I commend Netflix/Qwikster for putting this video up.
Whether you're subscribed or considering a subscription to Netflix, you've probably heard about their recent price increases by now. Sorry Netflix, but let's turn off the marketing spin cycle and be real for a minute. If people stay with their existing plans, they'll end up paying more and as far as I know, there wasn't an uprising of people asking for streaming only and DVD only plans. There was, however, an uprising of people protesting your new price changes.
The price changes mean that my plan will increase by 60% come September. It has made me seriously reevaluate my subscription and what I could get for $7.99, $9.99 and $15.98 a month instead of keeping Netflix.
- $7.99 represents the new pricing for either a streaming or the lowest DVD plan.
- $9.99 represents my current plan and current rate which ends soon.
- $15.98 represents the new pricing for my current plan comes September.
Alternatives to Netflix
Blockbuster by Mail is something a lot of people will immediately disregard. Despite Blockbuster's many changes over the years, some people are still sore at the company for late fee charges and payment collection practices. If you're still reading and haven't skipped this section, you'll be pleased to know that they offer pricing at $11.99, $16.99 and $19.99. While they don't have a streaming service yet, the extra cost for these plans could be overlooked for a few reasons.
- First, they claim that many new releases available 28 days before Netflix and Redbox.
- Second (to me this is the real bonus), game rentals are available with no extra fees.
- Third, they offer in-store exchanges.
I used to subscribe prior to their addition of games, but it seems like Blockbuster is doing a good job of serving this market. See http://www.blockbuster.com/gamesbymail for all the details. When I used to subscribe, I really felt like the exchanging in-store was a huge benefit. However, it did grow tiresome to actually have to go out to the store on occasion. Selection in the actual store is also an issue at times not to mention that they have fewer stores now as well.
If you don't want to be tied to a monthly fee, Redbox could be a great alternative. While Redbox means driving to pick up and drop off a disc, it also means getting your content exactly when you plan on using it. It's not as convenient as simply getting a disc in the mail or streaming it on a large number of devices, but the price is right. I could rent between 7 and 15 DVDs a month via Redbox for less than the several Netflix options. Redbox also provides the option of Blu-ray's for $1.50 instead of the $1 DVD and game rentals for $2 all out of the same machine. Unfortunately, these are not DVDs, Blu-rays or games that you can keep all to yourself for any amount of time. You must return them promptly or get charged extra.
The Public Library
Many public libraries offer DVDs for rent. Much like Netflix streaming, you can find some real hidden gems that you missed when they were first released. Surprisingly, it's even possible to find newer releases at the library as well. Best of all, you're already paying for it as a tax payer. In other words, it's free!
Buying a Physical DVD/Blu-ray
Despite the fact that I rarely re-watch movies and love renting for this very reason, there's something to be said for how many DVDs I could buy for $15.98/month. I could easily do one a month. Maybe one Blu-ray every two months — maybe more. If it's a comedy, I might revisit the movie a few times a year. If it's a good movie, but it's not exactly something that stands up to repeated viewing, I might loan it out. If all else fails and I'd rather it not collect dust, I could sell it on Amazon, eBay or a garage sale and make some of my money back. I've really moved away from buying up my own collection due to low rental prices, but there is something special about having a collection and pride in ownership.
Digital Renting/Buying Options
Amazon and Apple iTunes both offer rental/purchasing options as well. As of this writing it seems that many rentals on both services are about $3.99 for a rental and $14.99 for a downloadable purchase. This really makes Amazon's Instant Video and iTunes a good option, but the ownership option isn't quite as good as a real tangible disc if you ask me. The price difference doesn't seem to be very significant either. The rental costs are still more than Redbox, but more affordable than several other alternatives including on-demand renting from Comcast or Dish Network. Unfortunately, it's not quite as easy to use in my opinion. This isn't a huge deal for a techie, but not exactly a solution that just works with most peoples average TV setup.
The Real Problem
At the end of the day, Netflix isn't really pricing their services that badly. They are still a good value for your money, but what's really disappointing is the sudden and dramatic change as well as the treatment of existing customers. It's really customer service 101 here. I've been a subscriber for a few years and this isn't the first time Netflix has randomly changed things. The Blu-ray access option used to be a free option when it was first introduced. Then they charged $1 a month extra regardless of your plan. At some point this was raised to $2.
I'm pretty sure that Netflix has done some research and is prepared to lose a percentage of their customers due to this change. Instead of feeling that any lost customer is a bad thing, they've decided to accept a certain amount of loss. The price hike will help them to pay for new licensing contracts and help the bottom line. However, I just feel like this lack of respect for their customer base could be a bigger problem for Netflix than they expect. This type of behavior places a stigma against Netflix similar to the type of stigma that Blockbuster has had for many years. Netflix has acted as a faceless corporate entity. A change to the execution of the price hikes and a change to the communication could have helped Netflix a great deal. Instead, they've come off as greedy and disrespectful.
I've grown tired of hooking up the laptop to the HDTV whenever I want to watch anything from the computer. The remote never cuts it and even though I use my Sony PlayStation 3 for a lot of my viewing, there's some times when having a box designed from the ground up around being a streaming media player would be preferable. This is where the Brite-View CinemaTube has entered into my life and changed my media sharing HDTV watching experience.
Initial ThoughtsBrite-View has a line of plug and play media players to help you share your media from your PC to your TV. I recently received a brite-View CinemaTube 1080P HD and have been using it non-stop to stream anything under the sun such as Revision3.com's HD MP4s and other media that I have stored on my PC and Mac. I connected the CinemaTube to my network via a cat5 cable and other than some minor configuration changes on my Windows machine, everything worked perfectly right out of the box. I was able to stream with the UPnP support as well as by navigating through my shared folders. If you have a Mac, the process is seamless and if you're running XP or Vista you should be up in no time at all. Since I'm running Windows 7, there were some minor configuration changes. However, this is all outlined in good detail by brite-View online. I'm also sure they'll issue a software patch to the device to avoid this work-around entirely. The unit itself is extremely small, light weight and easy to setup. Navigating through the menus with the remote is simple and straightforward.
UI and Remote ControlThe CinemaTube's UI is nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done. Two areas of improvement for the UI would be in presentation and organization. If you're the type that has all their media stored in one unorganized folder, this system doesn't have a good way for you to quickly scan through and pick out the one item you want. It just gives you a list of the files and you have to scroll through until you find the one you want. It does have a handy preview feature, but I found that to actually slow me down occasionally. That would be useful when looking through old TV episodes or MP3s, but other than that it'll probably be disabled on my device. The good news is that the UI could be updated with a new firmware release that you can download direct to the device via it's update feature. It's not horrible, but it does have room for improvement.
However, the remote for the device is like gold. It makes interacting with the device simple and elegant. It's extremely responsive and even though the UI's presentation is lacking, the remote helps to cover up those imperfections.
FeaturesWhat the CinemaTube lacks in UI, it makes up for in features. Pick a video or audio format and it's almost guaranteed to be supported. Thanks to two USB ports, you can also use media off USB memory sticks or even USB hard drives. The device can work by accessing media over USB, your networks shared drives or via the UPnP MediaServer DCP. I'm looking forward to using an external hard-drive as the main source of content for the CinemaTube soon.
Playing movies direct from ISO files was probably my favorite feature of having this device. If you have your DVD collection backed up to your computer or a USB hard-drive, you can use the CinemaTube BV-5005HD to navigate through the DVD menu just as if you had picked it off of your DVD shelf and put it in your DVD player. Everything was snappy and the remote is full featured so it never felt like I was using a computer. It felt just like using a DVD player.
One thing to note about the feature set is that while you can play videos from YouTube over the device, it's really reliant on streaming from a PC with proper software installed -- so honestly, it's probably not something you'll even bother with doing. I could care less about streaming from YouTube. I can always turn on the PS3, my iPhone or look on the laptop for that. It's not a big deal to have YouTube on the big screen for me.
OverallOverall, I really love this device. It's tough to say it's a necessary addition to all the other tech under your HDTV, but it's also not nearly as expensive as some of the other options available. It would have been nice for the package to include wireless build in and to come with an HDMI cable, but it's not something I really expected at this price either. At the time of writing this, the device was on sale for $104.99 at http://www.brite-view.com/cinematube.php. I'm thrilled it has HDMI, Composite, Component, S/PDIF, LAN, and 2 USB Ports. There's a lot of competition for devices like this, but I felt that this product works amazingly well and I'd definitely recommend picking one up. One hundred bucks will let you be a couch potato even more efficiently.
When you're standing in the store or searching online for a new blender, one company hopes you'll ask yourself "will it blend?". Their web video series has proven that their blenders have the strength to blend just about anything. Whether or not you really want to blend your iPhone, golf balls or glow sticks, it's nice to know that in a pinch you could... Right? Of course!
The Blendtec Total Blender and company serves a group of people that don't think the average blender sold on Wal-Mart's shelves will do. Instead, they created a blender with plenty of power and sharp blades to cut through just about anything they throw at it. I don't own one of these blenders and I don't have any experience with them, but they've got me convinced that they're probably the best blenders around. In fact, I've never seen an ad on TV for one or one on a store shelf, but Blendtec is a brand that stuck for me several years ago entirely becaused of their web-based marketing efforts. The Will it Blend YouTube video series and website of the same name allowed them to share videos based around the simple idea of blending basically anything in their blenders. It's like a late night TV ad gone awry... but it works.
The company was relatively early to the game. They came up with a good idea and have stayed focused on content updates to Will it Blend? since 2006. The concept was good and even though the videos are distributed entirely on YouTube, they have a solid reputation. To be fair, I have no idea what kind of conversion rate they have from people that watch the videos to people that actually buy the product, but what can't be denied is that they've built strong brand recognition with hardly any money spent. As of writing this, they have 213,124 subscribers on their YouTube channel and videos with views from hundreds of thousands to millions on some of their videos. That's quite an audience and lots of eyeballs all because of a simple concept. Too often, people get caught up concerning themselves with doing something that's too tech heavy for an Internet-based marketing campaign or just too much of a traditional advertising model. Companies also try too hard to be one of the cool kids and say "me too", but everyone sees right through those supposed "viral" productions.
The keys for a good web-based marketing effort seem to be the following:
1) Keep it Simple. The KISS principle is almost always the best thing to keep in mind when doing anything. It also helps to keep your costs low. It's easy to over-complicate a good idea or a good product. Apple has proven that having a simple product focused on solving one specific problem can have a much better impact than something trying to do it all. The Will it Blend videos never try to do too much and you shouldn't either. Three steps is all they needed for success. 1. Show blender. 2. Show something go into blender. 3. Show dust come out.
2) Rinse and Repeat as needed. It's just like the instructions on a bottle of shampoo. Once you have a good concept, don't do it once and stop. That's like starting a corporate blog and posting once. Sequels happen for a reason and once you have something people are responding to, you shouldn't stop. It's also important to listen to your audience. When you've jumped the shark, you'll know it and you may want to try something different.
3) Be unexpected. The "Will it Blend?" series would not have gotten as much attention if they had just blended food. Not everyone needs to do something completely ridiculous like this, but taking steps to stand out from the crowd is important. Almost everyone has a competitor in one form or another and having a differentiating factor is important. However, having one that wouldn't be expected is even better.
Will you be able to blend these three principles together into a successful web-based marketing effort?