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Netflix Alternatives For Those Who Don't Want To Pay Up

Netflix Alternatives

First Posted: 07/13/11 03:47 PM ET Updated: 09/12/11 06:12 AM ET

Netflix jacked up its prices yesterday, and it appears from your comments that many of you are ready to storm Netflix HQ with pitchforks and fiery torches. It makes me wonder if perhaps there is a Netflixodus coming, a mass desertion, and if there is, where all of the abandoners will flee to.

The good news is, you have options. Your first option is never watching TV or movies again -- but let's assume you are not going to give them up. Here are some alternatives to the old Netflix pricing plans for you to mull over as the flames of your outrage cool:

THE NEW NETFLIX

Okay, this isn't what you want to hear, but you could just stick with Netflix and find an extra $6 per month in your couch cushions.

Look, you can't get unlimited DVD rental and unlimited streaming for $9.99 anymore. Kiss that goodbye, as my colleague Catharine Smith eloquently put it. Seemingly overnight, Netflix has gone from "Can you believe we get this for $10?" to "Can you believe we have to pay $16 for this?"

Your cheapest options, should you stick with the 'Flix, are streaming-only for $7.99 per month, or DVD-only starting at $7.99 per month (it's more expensive if you want to be able to order two DVDs at once). You can combine the plans for $15.98, saving you approximately $0 a month. The changes go into effect immediately for new customers; existing customers have until September to choose a plan.

But really, is $72 more per year such a huge expenditure for the convenience and familiarity of the Netflix infrastructure? It depends on your price sensitivity, and -- again, judging from the general outrage -- Netflix users are very price-sensitive.

If you can't spare to cut out one McDonald's Big Mac meal from your monthly budget, you do have alternative services that I'm sure will be happy to rescue you from Netflix's shores.

HULU PLUS

For $7.99 a month (same as either Netflix streaming or Netflix one DVD at a time), a subscription to Hulu Plus is yours. Hulu is best known for its television offerings, of course, but it has also added "hundreds" of movies, including many from the excellent, artsy Criterion Collection. Setting up your Hulu Plus to stream on your PlayStation 3, Roku, or Xbox 360 is easy, and it means HD-quality streaming classics and shows on your TV.

The major downfall of Hulu Plus, of course, is that even though you're paying 8 bucks a month, you still have to sit through those commercials that air on non-subscriber Hulu shows. You also lose the mail-in DVD option, so this one is for those with access to zippy Internet access only.

PROS: Large TV show database; entire Criterion Collection catalogue; HD-streaming; compatibility with several gaming systems, smartphones, and other devices.
CONS: Commercials, commercials, commercials; movie selection still lags badly in comparison to Netflix; no physical DVDs; in heavy talks to be sold to Yahoo, or Google, or Microsoft, or someone else.

APPLE TV & ITUNES

Is now the time to make the investment in an Apple TV? The little black box can be yours for $99, which allows you to rent TV shows and movies from the iTunes store and stream them straight onto your traditional television set. Though the selection is incredible and extensive, there is no "all-you-can-eat" option that made Netflix Streaming such a steal -- most HD movie rentals are $3.99, and most single episode TV show rentals are $0.99. You lose out on the frantic, free-flowing play-pause-play-pause enjoyment that is the Netflix/Hulu experience.

Another downside to Apple TV for many is that you have to own, you know, a TV. You can of course watch anything you rent or buy from iTunes on your mobile device or laptop or tablet or smartphone, but for the product to really pay off, you need a nice flatscreen that can hook up to the Apple black box.

PROS: Huge selection available for stream; compatibility across many devices; dependable HD streaming.
CONS: No all-you-can-stream option; no physical DVDs; need a fairly new television.

AMAZON PRIME

Most people don't think "video streaming" when they think "Amazon.com" -- heck, most people don't even think "video streaming" when they think "Amazon Prime," which is probably best known as the expedited shipping service for the Internet marketplace. But the $79 per year (about $6.50 per month) subscription to Prime also comes with its Instant Video service. Again, no physical DVDs, but there's a good number of streaming movies and TV shows available to Prime members.

No, the quality of selection isn't what it is on Netflix ("not even close," Ian Paul of PCWorld opines). The top 10 freebies on Prime Instant Video currently include the first season of Monty Python's Flying Circus, 80s space drama The Right Stuff, and a documentary about swinger's clubs in the 1970s called American Swing. The really attractive films are all available to rent on-demand at an extra pay-per-view fee, generally $3.99 for new releases.

PROS: All-you-can-watch streaming; cheaper than Netflix; comes with Amazon's expedited shipping for heavy Amazon shoppers.
CONS: Selection is not yet great; no physical DVDs.

BLOCKBUSTER

Don't laugh. Yes, I know the traditionally brick-and-mortar video rental store threatens to implode into a puddle of blue-and-yellow goo at any moment. But could its acquisition by Dish Network mean an opportunity for the two to take the lead in movie and television services?

Dish and Blockbuster have yet to team up to combine satellite TV and video rental in any meaningful way. But Blockbuster By Mail by itself isn't such a bad deal or a bad model. One DVD (or Blu-Ray!) at-a-time plans start at $11.99 per month. This is five dollars more expensive than the Netflix plan, but it comes with the ability to actually go to a store and rent movies there, meaning that if you want a movie on Friday night, you can go get it on Friday night. Blockbuster By Mail also comes with video games at no extra charge, and it supplements its physical DVD plan with an On-Demand option, where you can stream new releases starting at $2.99 (28 days earlier than most titles on Netflix, as the ads say).

Unfortunately, what you get in physical selection from Blockbuster you lose in streaming. Their free on-demand section is so pathetic it may as well not even exist. It consists mostly of promotional cast interviews and trailers (seriously, Blockbuster? You're featuring trailers?). But if you're considering the by-mail option on Netflix, and you live near a Blockbuster, it may be worth it to spend an additional $50 a year for the added convenience.

PROS: Huge selection of physical DVDs and Blu-Rays; comes with video games; brick-and-mortar rentals and returns included (while brick-and-mortar stores still exist).
CONS: Still more expensive than Netflix; awful, practically non-existent streaming service.

WRAP-UP

There is no service quite like Netflix, which is perhaps why the company felt comfortable raising its prices. But if you're a current Netflix patron, you are going to have to consider where your movie-watching priorities lie. Really think about your watching habits: Are you a habitual streamer or do you like your movies on DVD? How much time do you spend on Netflix every month? Do you consume enough DVDs and streaming programs to justify the leap to the more expensive combo pricing plan? Or can you just go to Redbox and pop in a dollar bill for your weekly movie night fix?

I coined the term "Netflixodus" above, and it will certainly be interesting to see just how much effect this price hike has on the company's users. Whether any of the above options prove more enticing, or a new service takes the torch, is yet to be seen. I also wonder whether illegal streaming sites like Tudou.com or the use of torrents will increase -- if they do, Hollywood will likely go begging Netflix to shave a couple of bucks off the combo deal.

I got a panicked email from my mother this morning informing me that she and my father certainly didn't need both streaming AND DVDs, and that they would not be paying $16 for both. They will be opting for Streaming-Only -- so there's two dollars per month down the drain for Netflix already. I assume several of you sent or received similar emails in the past 24 hours as well, as Netflix holds its breath and hopes that it is still attractive at its new price points.

Let the Netflixodus begin, folks, to whatever Promised Land you will.

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