By Jared Newman | Friday, April 15, 2011 at 3:00 am
Netflix may be an unstoppable force in the streaming video business, but it’s not without weaknesses. The service’s selection of on-demand movies doesn’t compare to its mail-order DVD catalog, and if you want new releases, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
That’s why services like mSpot Movies are trying to get a piece of the action. Although mSpot Movies isn’t new, the service is now slashing prices in hopes of landing on consumers’ radars.
mSpot rents standalone streaming movies for the same $3.99 as other on-demand services, but the main draw is a “club” package that charges a flat rate per month in exchange for credits, which can be redeemed for on demand movies. Starting at $5 per month for 20 credits, good for up to four movies, the basic service is now half as expensive as it used to be. There’s also an $8 option for 40 credits, and a $16 option for 80 credits. Throw in the promise of new and recent releases, and mSpot seems like a decent deal.
But there are caveats.
For starters, the promise of up to four movies with 20 credits rarely works out that way. A small amount of library content does cost 5 credits, but most old movies cost twice that, and all new releases cost either 10 credits or 15 credits. On the basic plan, you’re more likely to end up with two movies per month. For the mid-range plan, which costs the same as Netflix streaming, you’ll get about four movies per month.
The bigger issue is the size and scope of mSpot’s library. Of the 1,200 movies available through mSpot, only half are part of the club package, and plenty of them are throwaways. To get the really good new releases — films like The Social Network and The Fighter — you’ll have to buy a la carte. Club members get discounted rates of $3 or $3.25 for most new movies, but if the club itself doesn’t have a lot of stuff you want to watch, you’re better off with Amazon or iTunes.
On the bright side, mSpot is quite accommodating to mobile devices, with native apps available for iPhone, iPad and Android (including tablets). Other handsets can access the service through the web. That’s also a backup plan in case Apple ever requires mSpot to offer in-app subscriptions. mSpot would probably remove the app from the App Store to avoid paying Apple 30 percent of its new subscriber revenues, chief executive Daren Tsui told me.
As for set-top boxes, only Google TV is supported for now, but Tsui said mSpot is trying to get on a couple of game consoles. He wouldn’t say which ones.
The best thing I can say about mSpot Movies is that it’s not a Netflix clone. It offers a different selection of streaming movies with a different pricing structure. For a subset of movie watchers, that could make a lot of sense, but they’ll have to figure out their viewing habits and crunch some numbers to figure it out.