No DVD store nearby? Just go online

LEE SUCKLING
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2013
Television
HARD DRIVES: Traditional DVD/video stores to rent movies are becoming a thing of the past.

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There was once a time, not so long ago, where a video store was present in every neighbourhood. While they're still around - unlike countries such as the UK where they are rare as hen's teeth - your local film library is likely to be struggling, if it is still there at all.

DVD delivery companies such at Fatso pioneered the downfall of the video store, but as data caps have risen (most ISPs offer a standard 40 to 100GB per month these days) streaming direct from home is fast and easy.

Globally, on demand movies have become a major delivery mechanism. "It's a relatively new model for New Zealand due to the costs associated with infrastructure, our pretty average broadband and licensing of content, but we see this as a massive growth area in the future," says Steve Newall, editor of Flicks.co.nz.

Quickflix is perhaps the most prominent on demand film service available in New Zealand. It launched in March 2012, owing to the success of Quickflix in Australia. Demand and interest were high, says Paddy Buckley, its New Zealand managing director.

"Kiwis are early adopters and tech savvy and our launch came against a backdrop of lack of consumer choice in the pay TV market in New Zealand, as well as general unhappiness with the main existing pay TV business model," he comments. Quickflix is accessible via capable TVs from Sony, Samsung and Panasonic, Xbox, PS3, all PCs and Macs, plus various tablets and smartphones. Early this year, it'll launch as a channel on Freeview HD.

The pay-per-play model used by Quickflix is the same international model made prominent by iTunes rentals, which are available in New Zealand, though they're normally $1 cheaper ($6.99 on Quickflix as opposed to iTunes's $7.99 for new releases). iTunes will download the film to your device for 48 hours of use before it deletes itself, while Quickflix can stream until the 48-hour rental period ceases.

As for other systems, those with TiVo have $6.95 on demand film options, though the catalogue of new releases is limited. Microsoft's Zune (for PC and devices such as Xbox) offers movies for purchase, but Sony's Entertainment Network, which streams movies to the PS3 and other Sony devices, is not available in New Zealand. PS3 users do have one other option, Mubi, which offers a small but revolving selection of art house movies for a flat rate of $24.95 per month.

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Quickflix is the only New Zealand service that has an "all you can view" range of movies, which costs $14.99 per month for unlimited streaming, excluding pay-per-play new releases. It is notable, however, that the majority of the Quickflix subscription catalogue is older films - most of them made between 1990 and 2005 - and few of them blockbusters. When asked why the Quickflix subscription offering is largely back-catalogue while newer films are at extra cost, Buckley confirms: "Pay per view movies are generally new release titles that the studios only make available to us on that basis (ie, we can't put them into our subscription catalogue)."

This limited catalogue isn't a New Zealand-only phenomenon.

In the US, where on demand film is commonplace, TV channels and studios are increasingly releasing movies only on DVD and Blu-ray, restricting them from services such as Netflix (the US equivalent of Quickflix). HBO and Universal Pictures, have recently signed a deal to create such a restriction.

Sky TV subscribers have perhaps the best option for streaming movies direct to their computer or computer-connected TVs. Its catch-up movie service is free for Sky Movies subscribers, and has a revolving selection of around 150 films from its movie channels (most of them only a year or so old) available to stream instantly at no extra cost. The pay TV provider also offers a catalogue of many thousand pay per view titles for $4.99-$6.99 each.

Aside from iTunes, which offers HD rentals, all providers in New Zealand are broadly in standard definition. "Primarily [it's] a data thing," says Buckley. While iTunes downloads its content (average film size is around 3GB) Quickflix, iSky and others stream their films, and file sizes are generally around 1GB. While quality is sacrificed, this means you can be watching your chosen film faster on the streaming services.

iTunes and Zune are the only providers to give the option of purchasing a film, rather than just renting. Buckley says this is a backward trend. "[There's an] interesting comparison here with music (increasing success of Spotify and others), as well as the fact that the concept of ownership is fast becoming a thing of the past," he says. "As long as people have access, they are increasingly less concerned about physical - or even digital - ownership."

So, which service is right for you? It comes down to what you, as a movie lover, value most: Definition quality, ready-to-watch speed, price, or catalogue range. But there's nothing to say one can't use multiple services.

Buckley, prefers streaming options. "[They're] far quicker and uses less data than downloading," he says. "In New Zealand of all places, that's relevant."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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