• Blockbuster Online with New 2Wire MediaPoint Player Has a Tough Climb Ahead

    Have you received the email pitch from Blockbuster Online yet, to rent 25 movies and get the new 2Wire MediaPoint Digital Media Player "free?" I've received a couple already this week (see below), and after reviewing the offer and its details, and comparing it to other alternatives, my conclusion is that the new service has a tough climb ahead.


    The new 2Wire box itself is in the same general family as other single-purpose boxes such as AppleTV, Vudu and Netflix's Roku. There are some differences among them in hard drive size, pricing, outputs and streaming vs. downloading orientation. But they all serve the same basic purpose: connecting you via your home broadband connection to one source of "walled garden" premium-quality video content.

    VideoNuze readers know I've been quite skeptical of the standalone box model, especially when box prices start in the $200-300 range. There's no question there's an upscale, early adopter audience that will buy in, but mainstream consumers will be uninterested for all kinds of reasons including: financial considerations (especially in this economy), resistance to connecting another box in already crowded consoles, perceived technical complexity, strong existing substitutes (e.g. cheap ubiquitous DVD players) and indistinct value propositions.

    My judgment is based on a pretty simple set of criteria I rely on to gauge a new product or service's likelihood of success: Does it offer meaningful new value (some combination of better price, quality or speed) with minimal adoption effort required? Can a large target audience for this new value be clearly defined, served and acquired in an economically-reasonable manner? Is this new value attainable without sacrificing meaningful benefits of existing alternatives?

    Miss on any one of these and the odds of success lengthen. Miss on any two and you're in long-shot territory. Miss on all three and you're dead on arrival. After evaluating the Blockbuster Online/MediaPoint current offer, my sense is that it misses on at least two and possibly all three.

    Value: As explained below, for certain movies renters, the offer is valuable. It provides convenience at a relatively low financial commitment for the new device. But explaining these benefits just to the relevant target audience at an economic cost per acquisition is going to be nearly impossible. I'm dubious that even in-store promotions - which on the surface seem Blockbuster's strength - will work. First, there may be franchisee issues, as there were with previous "Total Access" promotions. And second, Blockbuster has closed so many stores in prime target neighborhoods - due to the rise of Netflix and other options eroding their business - that they'll be missing many prospects (example: in my upscale home town of Newton, MA there is not a single Blockbuster store left).

    Audience: There's only one real target audience I can see for this offer, and it seems very narrow to me: low-volume renters of movies only, who are not iTunes users. Think about it - if you rent a lot of movies, you've likely been subscribing to Netflix for years (more so if you also rent TV shows). If you want to own your content instead of rent it, then you buy DVDs or maybe more recently have been buying digital version, most likely with iTunes primarily. If that's the case, then when it comes to watching on TV, you're going to buy an Apple TV (even then, few have done so to date), not a 2Wire MediaPoint. The eligible target audience left for Blockbuster/MediaPoint seems pretty slim.

    Sacrificing existing benefits: Inevitably all digital distribution options need to be compared to the incumbent DVD format, which is remarkably strong (no wonder a billion units have been shipped to date). Against the DVD standard, Blockbuster/MediaPoint is inferior in a number of ways: limited viewing windows (the usual online limitations of 24 hour expiration after starting, and 30 day automatic file deletion), no portability to view rented movies on other TVs not connected to a MediaPoint, no TV shows available for rent, and at this point, smallish storage that only keeps up to 5 movies at a time.

    Add it all up, and it's a pretty daunting set of issues. To be sure, much of this isn't specific to Blockbuster. To succeed, all new digital delivery options must be mindful of the above criteria as well.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.