Netflix, Blockbuster Online and the Secret Santa Ana Connection

Netflix vs. BlockbusterAfter the honeymoon as a Netflix newbie, where they send out new DVDs as quickly as you can return them (I was able to turnaround over 20 movies in each of my first two months), and you find yourself renting anything and everything, even that piece of shit Cremaster, I noticed that they began to slow down the flow of DVDs. One of their techniques was to delay acknowledgement of receipt of returned movies, sometimes for up to 4 days, thus withholding the next rental. If you are a Los Angeles-area Netflixer, chances are your return envelopes are addressed to Santa Ana, that bastion of punk rock and art at the edge of the OC. Now I’m sure that the good ol’ USPS (even the Ray Charles branch) can get piece of mail from the Westside to Santa Ana in a day or two at the most.

After a little web trolling, I googled into a thriving subculture of complaining about Netflix. My suspicions about their slowing down rentals was confirmed with talk of a practice known as “throttling.” Speculation is that there is a rentals-per-month point where Netflix will not make money off an indivual user and so they have to reign you in from renting too fast. The legality of throttling is dubious at best, and the practice definitely raises some false advertising questions in the face of their “all you can eat” per month claims. Some of the best Netflix watchdog sites are and Netflixunderground in particular has a great expose on how Netflix inflates multi-disc DVD sets across more discs to get you to use more separate rentals in order to watch a complete series. Pretty evil tactic if you ask me, especially considering that they just announced larger than expected 2Q profits.

So when I ultimately dumped Netflix, I gave Blockbuster Online a shot. (Their selection for mainstream, domestic releases is about the same. You might find a title or two that Netflix stocks which Blockbuster doesn’t–Girl on a Motorcycle, Pierot le Fou, etc.–but you can get new reissues faster from Blockbuster than Netflix, Criterion releases for example.) Interestingly enough, the Blockbuster rentals also return to a distribution hub in… Santa Ana. (What the hell is it about Santa Ana?) Blockbuster, however, has consistently acknowledged return receipts usually the very next damn day and shoots me back 3 fresh titles in a day or two at the longest. Netflix can no longer pin the blame for lagging shipments on the USPS.

So for now, Blockbuster is adequate but better yet I think I’ll take a month off and try that local Cinefile all-you-can-rent for a month deal. Or maybe I’ll make the trip to Rocket Video. There’s still some VHS stuff to be watched yet.