Getting DVDs delivered by mail to watch when it suits you sounds potentially appealing, but will they really come that often and will you ever see the movies you actually want? I decided to sign up for Quickflix and find out.
The notion of renting DVDs by mail has never quite taken off in Australia to the same extent as the US, where Netflix has become a major player in the entertainment scene. (It also looks like we'll be lagging behind a little on getting movies streamed directly to our TVs and other devices, which is Netflix's main expansion plan these days, but that's another story.)
That said, the option obviously does appeal to some people. Quickflix claims to have sent out 10 million DVDs since it was founded, though its subscriber base is a rather more modest 64,000 people or so. Its chief local competition is Big Pond Movies; the main reason I ended up testing Quickflix is that there was a special offer on which allowed new customers to sign up for just $7 for two months, which appealed to my inner sense of frugality. You don't pay any extra postage fees, so realistically there's no way Quickflix would have made any money on me during that period.
One disadvantage of taking the bargain approach was that it slowed down the registration process and the delivery of my first discs. I signed up on a Sunday, couldn't complete the registration process until Monday, and didn't get my first pair of DVDs until the following Friday. That gave me the immediate feeling that delivery speeds might be an ongoing issue, and for the most part that did prove correct.
Speed can be an issue
In order to see how many movies you could consume, I adopted a policy of returning discs the day after I received them. If I was a full-scale movie addict, then watching two flicks a night wouldn't be a problem, and I'd be eager to get more as quickly as possible.
Despite taking this approach, the absolute best result Quickflix managed to produce was receiving four discs in a week (with the first batch arriving on the Monday and the second on a Friday). Two movies a week was much more typical. While emails were sent indicating two titles had been dispatched at once, it also wasn't uncommon for them to arrive a day apart.
Obviously, Quickflix is somewhat at the mercy of Australia Post here. But if I couldn't get deliveries to the Sydney CBD any faster than this, then remote and rural users would have to wait even longer. (Admittedly, if there's no local video store, then a slow postal delivery is better than no delivery at all.)
The Quickflix site includes a system which lets you indicate that you've returned movies as soon as you pop them in the post, but for trial customers the next round still don't get sent until your returned movies are received. Apparently full-price customers actually get some advantage from this approach, and can have movies dispatched as soon as they indicate they've returned their previous rentals. While I can understand not enabling that option for brand new customers whose honesty hasn't yet been established, it means trial customers are seeing the system at its slowest.
Choice can be an issue
Quickflix constantly sends you reminders telling you to expand and update your queue (the list of movies which you'd like to see, ranked in your order of enthusiasm for them). I can understand why; the more movies you have in there, the better your chances of getting sent something you want to watch. And while I couldn't find absolutely everything I wanted, there were more than enough options to keep my queue bubbling -- or so it seemed.
I found the queue management a bit fiddly and not always helpful. Movies which are in high demand are listed as having a long wait, but I found the status for titles could vary several times a week. More to the point, after the first week my top-ranked choices never actually got sent to me (and I wasn't seeking high-demand titles as far as I could tell). What got sent to me seemed pretty much like a lottery most of the time. I'd have preferred a little more predictability.
Would I pay for it?
The cheapest regular pricing for Quickflix is $9.99, which entitles you to one discs at a time and a maximum of four a month. At the opposite end of the spectrum, $36.99 entitles you to three DVDs or Blu-rays at a time, with no monthly limit. (You can see the full list of pricing plans here.)
If I'd stuck with my plan after the trial period, I'd have been paying $20 a month for a maximum of 8 DVDs a month. Given the delivery speeds I experienced, I'd have had trouble getting many more than that. As such, I can't see the unlimited plans as particularly good value, as the ability to get discs constantly is severely constrained
Overall even $20 felt like a bit too much for me, given the speed of the service and how often I actually want to watch movies. Once I'd made that decision, I decided to cancel (ahead of when the two months actually would have been up). I'll give Quickflix points for not burying the cancellation option or going crazy trying to convince me to stay signed up -- the process was very straightforward.
In the long-term and with an NBN in place, I imagine mail-based movie rental services will disappear in favour of download options. We're some way away from that, but given the postal lags, I still can't see Quickflix as an appealing option right now. But as usual I'm just one person, and I don't rent movies very often anyway. If you want to share your own experience, we're all ears in the comments.
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