The Criterion Collection has a new website. $5 gets you a 1-week pass to watching a movie online, which you can apply toward the purchase of the DVD or Blu-ray disc. They'll eventually have a free ad-supported film series online as well. Looks great so far. Love the 1-minute free previews. This could be a great way for people to discover and explore great films. I suspect the rent-to-own idea will be appealing to film buffs, where collecting great films is an eventual goal.
For more traditional uses of rentals, I wonder how these ideas will stand up against Netflix, in both the short term and long term. A paid digital movie rental that cannot escape the browser is less appealing than getting a rental DVD in the mail (short term) or streamed to a set-top box (long term).
For recent incarnations of online viewing of movies, especially for classic films, $5 for an ad-free experience beats the ad-laden Hulu experience. That feels like a sweet spot.
Speak of which: Blockbuster has a new set-top box, a catch-up step to compete with Netflix, but with a different model: pay-per-view pricing. It's not clear what makes the most sense when it comes to rentals: Pay per view lets me control my consumption, but membership takes the sting out of the fact that I'm paying for something I don't get to "keep" in any meaningful sense. I suspect selection will trump all of it, though. Netflix streaming is merely a supplementary source right now, not someplace I check when I want to watch a specific title.
And then there's the short-term problem of each of these services requiring its own proprietary set-top box. That has to end ASAP. Apple TV + boxee gets Hulu and other streaming services to your TV unofficially, and I hope the end result works similarly but in a more official fashion. Will it be a monolithic marketplace and device sold and managed by one company? Will it be a suite of protocols for processing payments and streaming product? Will it be a general purpose set-top computer, with software written by individual providers, such as the XBox or Apple TV? Will I still be able to collect ("own") media?