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Blockbuster Total Access: Not quite ready for prime time

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Over the past five years, Netflix has become synonymous with renting movies online. It’s like asking for a Kleenex when all you really want is a tissue. And though several other companies have attempted to exploit this overnight success by launching subscription-based programs of their own, mainstay video chain Blockbuster is the only competitor that has ever actually shown a glimmer of hope in sharing the stage. But does the country’s largest video chain have what it takes to go head-to-head with Netflix?

With more than 60,000 titles to choose from, Total Access isn’t exactly lacking in selection, but it pales in comparison to its main competitor, which boasts 10,000-plus more titles, including additional offerings from other countries. Netflix also seems to be on top of every new foreign release, while Blockbuster is much more selective as to what percentage of that specific market they plan to appeal to. This isn’t exactly a major issue, but it could possible deter foreign language-speaking customers from signing up.

Blockbuster Total AccessIf you are thinking about making the monthly commitment, you can rest assured that Blockbuster has unabashedly copied the Netflix mold. The 3-DVD plan (which is considered the default selection) is an identical $17.99/month, includes one-day shipping to almost any location, and provides you with a free in-store rental each month. The fact that Blockbuster does have store locations is perhaps its only leg up over Netflix. Not only can you return your movies via postal service, but you can also return them at your local Blockbuster store. And instead of waiting for your DVDs to return before shipping out the next title on your queue list, Blockbuster contacts the nearest distribution center and promptly sends out your next movie. What’s even more, for every movie that you return to Blockbuster, you’ll also receive another free in-store rental. This means that you could potentially be watching a new movie while your next title is still on its way.

Unfortunately, while this alternative is certainly a great benefit for those who aren’t too lazy to drive a couple miles to their nearest Blockbuster, those that rely strictly on the internet-based portion of the program may run into a few problems. For one, the website is painfully clunky – so much so, in fact, that I often found myself simply giving up on browsing through the library because of the site’s slow responsiveness. Plus, many of the upcoming releases aren’t even made available until the week of their release, whereas Netflix displays several titles scheduled for future release so that customers may conceivably plan out their busy lives with a few movies they’re actually looking forward to. Additionally, the queue navigation is unresponsive and the search program fails to properly locate every movie available for the actor or director in question. Instead, you’re forced to look up each title individually, which can be quite the hassle for those who aren’t tech savvy or serious film buffs.

The above criticisms aren’t meant to completely debase Blockbuster’s Total Access program, but it does prove that the video rental giant still has more to learn before going head-to-head with Netflix. Cinephiles that know how to navigate around poorly constructed websites and don’t mind making the odd trip to their local Blockbuster may actually benefit more from Total Access, but for those looking for the easiest way to rent movies online, Netflix is still their best bet. With some simple improvements, though, Total Access could give Netflix a serious run for its money.

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