As broadband speeds increase, more and more consumers are using the internet as a way to digitally replace physical goods. It happened with CDs, when Apple’s iTunes and Spotify started supplying buy-to-own and advert-supported models respectively, and now blinkbox aims to do the same with video.
The blinkbox service combines both Apple and Spotify’s selling strategies, offering paid-for feature titles, alongside free ad-supported TV and film content. And with over one million unique visitors a month, a selection of over 6,000 Hollywood movies and a wide array of both UK and US TV series, the technique is clearly doing quite well.
Both purchased and rented content from blinkbox is stored online on the company’s servers, and while rented films can be watched an unlimited number of times within 24 hours from the moment the film starts playing, purchased films are saved onto your account permanently (or, as is the problem with all streaming services, at least until the service goes out of business).
By allowing users to stream movies directly from their servers allows, blinkbox has managed to make the service compatible with almost any computer with a Flash player, so Windows, Macs and Linux users should be content, although iPad and iPhone purchasers are out of luck.
blinkbox also allows an additional option for PC users only, to download and store content to their computer, which means the risk of an interrupted stream is minimised – although the use of DRM does mean that playback options are severely limited. However, with prices starting as low as 39p for a TV episode and 99p for a movie, and buy-to-keep prices starting at 89p (TV) and £2.99 (film), these limitations can probably be overlooked if you have a decent internet connection and a big monitor.
The website itself is easy to navigate, cleanly designed and even if you are feeling lost, the search box will point you to the right place. Sadly, despite content deals with Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount, Sony Pictures, and Twentieth Century Fox and more than 15 leading independent producers such as Fremantle Media, All3Media, Revolver, Zig Zag, and Aardman Animations, there is still a lot more content that needs to be uploaded to convince people to cancel their lovefilm accounts.
The Road Test
We tried blinkbox this weekend with some interesting results. First, and most importantly, when watching a movie the server supplied content without stuttering once (on my 6mb/s home connection). However, compression issues left a few noticeable artefacts during dark, high-octane scenes. Although these moments were rare, they did remind you that you’re watching a compressed file rather than a DVD.
Watching a film for free is also great, however the adverts break up the action more often than you would like – however, no more so than Film Four or a regular TV movie, and at least you can see how long they’ll last.
Finding a movie to watch was easy – a simple user interface, complete with the search box made picking a film fine. However, as mentioned before, in the grand scheme of things, 6,000 movies just isn’t enough if you’re looking specifics, or if you have a penchant for French art movies circa 1920.
Other things to note were a few HTML issues, and the downloaded (not streamed) video file’s DRM prohibiting playback in some media players.
While the idea that film-rental giant Blockbuster Video could soon go out of business is pretty sad, the ability to choose from over 6,000 leading blockbuster films without ever having to leave the house means that at least I won’t have to be reminded of Blockbuster’s failure by walking passed their abandoned stores.
However, when the 6,000 films include pictures like “Oasis of the Zombies”, its obvious that to really thrive, the service will need more films – I’m sure that as blinkbox grows and adds more films, the small video artefacts can easily be overlooked.