In short, the winner is Netflix, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they seem to have some genuine interest in good customer service.
But let’s review.
ratings system: Blockbuster. Clear winner here, as they offer you the ability to rate movies in half-stars. Didn’t completely hate something? Give it 1.5 stars. Thought it was a little better than good, but not great? Give it 3.5 stars. Not to mention that Blockbuster actually offers the option of being completely neutral about a movie, feeling like it was okay, and not committing to saying that you liked it. With Netflix, you kind of have to pretend that 3 is neutral (as it should be on any Likert scale), and go from there. Note: Netflix users tend to have ratings that are less skewed – probably because there are a lot more of them.
diversity and range of materials: Netflix. While there are many titles that I would like to see that neither one offers (Stray Dogs), I find that Netflix generally has more rare and indie movies, more music, and more new releases, and far more copies of them, than Blockbuster does. Netflix doesn’t pull that “temporarily unavailable” nonsense nearly as much as Blockbuster does.
ability to communicate: Netflix. Communication goes two ways, and Blockbuster doesn’t seem to know either of them. Netflix will send you an e-mail notifying you of the simplest change, or even just to see whether or not you got your movies on time (presumably so that they know where to build more distribution centers). Blockbuster, however, will not feel the need to communicate with you about the receipt of your items, and navigating the site to get to a place where you can communicate with them isn’t really convenient. I think it was when Blockbuster decided to shut down my distribution center without so much as telling me, or explaining why there was a two-week delay on a movie, that I decided to simply upgrade my Netflix account (because i can upgrade to the 7-at a time plan for what i’m paying blockbuster).
ease/comfort of use: Netflix. Let’s put it this way: If movies are your gig, then you can spend HOURS navigating the Netflix site, searching for new movies to add to your queue, or rate, or recommend to friends. The Blockbuster online account leaves you with that kind of cheap feeling you get from a one-night stand: all you want to do is get in, unload, and get out, but if you’ve had better then you get that strange feeling that you should want something more.
perks: Netflix, though they both have some nice ones. Ooh, let’s break this one down:
Blockbuster’s perks are easily defined: 2 free in-store rentals per month, plus 1 “buy 1 previously owned dvd, get one free” coupon a month. To fill in those times when nothing’s coming in the mail (which, with BB, is quite often).
Netflix, however, is the movie-renting god of perks, this aside. Let’s take them one at a time:
reviews: Blockbuster, in short, doesn’t really have many of them, especially on the indie films. If I’m going to watch something, I want to know what people have to SAY about the film, even though I’ll probably think that they’re all idiots anyhow. Has someone mentioned that the cinematography in the second half is to die for, or that Fallon doesn’t have Sandler’s on-screen charisma and thereby doesn’t really work as well as one would hope when paired with Drew Barrymore? Is this movie campy in a funny way, or a complete farce? Is it a long reference to another movie/book/previous work? It’s all about the diverse opinions that people have to offer (even if many of them are idiots).
recommendations: Blockbuster doesn’t recommend indie films. It recommends, well, blockbusters. So if you’re like me and you’ve either already seen or already written off most of the blockbusters, then there’s not a whole lot available for you there.
member profiles: If you stumble across an amazingly well-written review on Netflix (which does happen!), then you have the option of reading other reviews by this person, looking at their profile (name, location, bio) and a list of their favourites, along with any other custom lists that they’ve made, such as “Low-budget Lesbian Dramas” or “Films with ABBA on the soundtrack” or “Movies to have sex to” or “Best American Indie films of the 1990s”. You get the gist. It’s like when you’re looking for something specific on Amazon, and you come across a list that someone’s made, and it opens up this whole new world along the same vein of your originally desired item.
friends!: Oh, this is the mac-daddy of Netflix cool. With absolute ease, you can link yourself to your friends, which allows you all sorts of neat things. It lets you see what your friends have at home right now, what they’ve recently rated, if they’ve recently made a review, or left their two cents (kind of like a one-liner mini-review) on something recently. It tells you what movies most people didn’t like that your friends did, what’s in theaters or new to DVD that they loved, what movies all your friends loved, which ones they all hated, and which ones they disagreed on. It lets you recommend movies to your friends, if, for instance, they haven’t seen Equilibrium yet, and that very fact makes you want to cry, and it lets them recommend them to you, if, for instance, you’ve been looking for a particular animated short from the 1950s, and they found the ONE DVD that it happens to be on. It lets you see what your friends thought, which you then get to filter (“Greg has about my attention span, so if he thought it was boring, I probably will too” or “Elizabeth has a soft spot for British comedy and anything with Guinevere Turner”). And it tells you when people have listened to you and added your recommendation to their queue, so that you can commend them on their incredibly good taste and remind them to thank you when they’ve seen the movie and fallen in love with it.
so the moral of the story is… Netflix is the way to go, hands down. If you’re one of those crazy people (crazy brilliant not crazy crazy) who would contemplate having both kinds of accounts, do yourself a favor and just get a bigger netflix account. In the end, it would be worth it.