Just a year ago, Netflix looked invincible. It had a stronghold on paid video streaming, with millions of loyal subscribers (many of whom had ditched cable TV). Netflix had carved out its place in the streaming market at just the right time — right before it exploded. The future was bright.
Though Netflix is still doing fine, things changed in mid-2011. Its decision to split up its streaming and DVD services led to a customer backlash, which led to Netflix scrapping its Qwikster plans. In the process it lost thousands of subscribers, and (permanently?) tarnished its reputation.
Meanwhile, content providers began to play hardball with Netflix. Hollywood is accustomed to calling the shots for everyone else, and digital distribution — particularly unlimited subscription packages like Netflix — is viewed as a threat to the familiar model. Deals grew more expensive for Netflix (hence the price hike and DVD/streaming split) and content began to disappear, like the 800+ Starz movies that just vanished.
So Netflix is living in a changed world. Fortunately for Reed Hastings and company, Netflix is still a unique service. It’s tricky to name a single company that can be considered a full-fledged rival to Netflix. With that said, we’ve broken down some of the services that — different as they are — could potentially replace Netflix for your digital video needs.
The most obvious Netflix “rival” is Hulu Plus, but it’s really more of a complementary service than a true rival. Netflix offers a mixture of movies and older seasons of TV shows, while Hulu Plus focuses more on current-run and older TV. Though Netflix’s movie collection could be more impressive, Hulu Plus barely has any movies.
Hulu Plus is priced similarly to Netflix, at $7.99 per month. Unlike Netflix, though, Hulu still forces you to watch ads.
This is a service to keep an eye on. A year from now, it’s possible that Amazon’s streaming service will have landed enough deals to be a true Netflix rival. Right now, though, its content library doesn’t compare.
In its present state, Amazon Prime streaming is best viewed as a bonus added onto the Amazon free shipping service. Heck, you even get some free e-book rentals thrown in to boot. When you look at it as an overall package, Amazon Prime can be a great deal. As a standalone streaming service, though, it’s second-rate.
For $79, you get Prime streaming, along with the other Amazon perks.
At this point, we pass into the realm of services that aren’t really like Netflix, but that can potentially replace it. Walmart-owned Vudu has a solid selection, but its media is sold a la carte, rather than as an unlimited monthly package.
Digital rental prices generally range from $1-6 per movie. If we use that to get a $3.50 average price per rental, then it would only take two movies to equal the monthly cost of a Netflix subscription.
Like Vudu, Apple also offers individually-rented movies and TV shows. Like Vudu, though, only those who watch two or three movies a month will spend the same as they would on Netflix.
Amazon Instant Video
Yes, Amazon is making a second appearance on the list. If we’re including a la carte services, then Amazon’s Instant Video (separate from Amazon Prime streaming) offers a great selection.
Pricing and availability is similar to iTunes, and the content can be played on PCs, TVs (via Roku boxes), and Kindle Fires.
While we’re covering non-subscription video rental services, it’s worth mentioning the Android Market’s media selection. Just visit the Market, find the movie of your choice, and start streaming on your PC or Android device.
Though Redbox has yet to offer any kind of digital distribution, its Kwik-E-Mart DVD and Blu-ray rentals offer a great alternative to Netflix’s DVD rental service — for reasonable prices (provided you return them on time).
So Netflix doesn’t really have any very strong direct competitors, but if you’re looking at all these as an alternative to going to the movies and paying for television, then you have a fair bit more budget to work with, probably over $100 a month. If that’s the case, and you don’t want to go with Netflix, you could use these services to put together a great media package that will get you a competitive mix of movies and television that will allow you to cut the cord without any major sacrifices.