DVD Rentals: A 28-Day Test in Delayed Gratification

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Redbox caved. The DVD rental kiosk company agreed that it would hold off on renting Warner Bros. movies for 28 days after they’re first released. So if you’re really itching to see a brand-new release right away, you’ll have to buy it for $20 or $30 or whatever. Or you can wait the four weeks and rent it for as little as $1.

The announcement being circulated included this quote:

“We are very pleased to have had the opportunity to sit down with redbox and negotiate an arrangement that benefits both parties and allows us to continue making our films available to redbox customers,” said Kevin Tsujihara, president, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group. “The 28-day window enables us to get the most from the sales potential of our titles and maximize VOD usage.”

Notice that the blurb says “both parties,” not “all parties.” This arrangement doesn’t benefit the consumer. Even so, Redbox does try to make it seem like there’s some sort of a benefit to the consumer. If it weren’t for the delay, Redbox says, the kiosk operator might have to raise prices. (Incidentally, Redbox has already been exploring those options as well.) Another executive-speak blurb from the Warner Bros. deal announcement:

“This agreement enables redbox to fulfill our commitment to providing consumers affordable and convenient home entertainment,” said Mitch Lowe, president, redbox. “By agreeing to a delayed release date, redbox can now acquire Warner Home Video titles at a reduced product cost, preserving value for our consumers and increasing customer access to Warner titles at redbox locations nationwide.”

So the deal should make Warner Bros. and Redbox more money. As for the consumer, you still get to rent DVDs for $1, though you have to wait longer than you want. And American consumers are not exactly known for their patience. Nonetheless, no one’s forcing you to buy a DVD, and with a little discipline and a little suffering via delayed gratification you can still see a movie for a pittance. (A while ago, Netflix entered a similar delay for Warner Bros. movies, so trying to rent a just-released DVD via the mail-order service won’t work.)

The only part of the Redbox deal that is downright wasteful—and also seems mean-spirited, despicable even—was not included in the company announcement but was reported by the WSJ:

Redbox, a unit of Coinstar Inc., also agreed to destroy Warner discs when it’s done renting them. Normally Redbox sells its old DVDs for $7 apiece.

What a waste. Presumably, Warner Bros. is paying Redbox extra for this little arrangement, hoping that it’ll help the movie company sell more full-priced DVDs. The movie company is subsidizing the destruction of old, perfectly functioning DVDs solely so it can sell you new DVDs that show the same damn movie.

Regardless, from the consumer perspective, the question comes back to: Do you really need to buy the movie? Come on, you may be proud of your DVD collection, but do you watch the movies you own all that often? Probably not. And why not? Because you own the movie and can watch it anytime. Therefore, there’s no compelling reason to watch it now.