Friday, March 20, 2009

Online DVD Rental Singapore

Online DVD Rental Singapore Compared

Hollywoodclicks started its Singapore online DVD rentals in 2004. Today, there are 2 more online major rental stores - Videohub and Homepal. Are these online DVD rental worth subscribing?

It depends. Their business model is very similar to the US Netflix, so they all have common advantages and disadvantages. To view it in perspective, we should also compare them to the brick and mortar stores we are familiar with.

As online renters usually offer time-based plans, we should find out what is the true cost per disc. To calculate cost, you must find out the unit cost per disc, not the absolute cost of the rental package. Let's take Hollywoodclick's $24.61 month's supply of DVD rentals using their 1-DVD-at-a-time plan. First, you need to calculate the "unproductive" days which is 8 weekend days and the public holidays in the month. Next you will have to add the shipment transit time which is 2 days for a postal round trip assuming you follow the strict drop-off routine (see next paragraph). The company will need another one day to process your rental. Using these parameters, we can calculate our actual cost. Assuming there are 30 days in a month, minus 8 weekends, minus an odd public holiday, you technically have 21 days left. 21 divided by 3 days turnaround, you'll have an average 7 DVDs per month. 7 divided by $24.61 is $3.51 per disc. Now this does not compare favorably with regular rental stores and certainly not a good deal as Gramophone's which charges $3 for a one-off rental. It will be cheaper if you use their time-based package at $30 per month which allows you to borrow an "unlimited" number of discs at 3 DVDs at any one time. Again, if you are tardy in returning the discs on time, the costs go up by default.

We assume that you will watch it on the day/night itself and return it by post within 24 hours but no later than 3pm the following day (i.e. if you receive the disc on Tuesday 4pm, you'll have to return it by 3pm on Wednesday to ensure that the postal people pick it up on their 3-4pm route).

In a Straits Times 29 October 2008 "Just click for blockbusters" it erroneously reported that a $41.73 per month plan gets a customer 3 discs a week which implied a cost of $3 per disc. This is wrong. It actually costs the customer $3.50 per disc assuming they return the discs within 4 days. If you hold onto the discs longer, your costs go up proportionately.

Of course, to be fair, when comparing costs between online and brick stores, we must factor the transport costs as well (MRT, Bus fares, petrol & parking for car owners) and time spent outside the home to make their dvd selection. This could easily amount to $2-5 dollars per trip.

I recently tested Homepal's service. This is what I got for a 3-DVD one month plan. Homepal made 9 dispatches of 3 DVDs (which averages a 3 days' turnaround time between dispatches) I returned the dvds within 24 hours before the post office working day pick up time of 3pm. Yes, it is not easy to make the plan cost productive for you!). This works out to 27 rentals within one month or $1.37 per disc ($36.95 divided by 27 rentals per month). They did not dispatch one old title I wanted. Most of the titles I took were catalog items and more than two-thirds are not my top picks. This is a slightly better performance than the service I got from Hollywoodclicks earlier.

No Late Fees
Don't be fooled by the marketing gimmick that you won't be penalized for returning the discs late. In a time-based plan, the clock is ticking, and time costs you big bucks. I am not saying that it is a scam, but this is the way the rental business works - you buy time to enjoy the viewing pleasure of the DVDs or Blu-rays. The more time you take, the more money you pay - in this case, the less DVDs you can rent.

There had been a lot of controversy in the US when the US Netflix subscribers took up a class action suit against the DVD rental company which "quietly throttled" heavy users. "Throttling" refers to the company deliberately delaying the mailing of discs to users whom it deemed to have returned the discs too quickly. The company paid out millions in the 2006 settlement.

This happened to me with one of these local online renters. When it happened the second time, I called the person in charge to complain. He denied that the company practices throttling. After that, the service resumed at a satisfactory pace. So if the company does not turn around the discs within 3-4 working days, you should call up the company for an explanation. They can't blame it on the post office as the PO is very efficient with its automated central sorting system. You can expect the postman to deliver your package by the following day ie less than 24 hours.

In summary, it is not cheaper to rent from online stores. So let's examine their other advantages. This assumption is bias in favor of heavy renters where every rental adds up to a considerable amount.

Convenience and Hassle Free:
Discs are delivered at your doorstep. Yes, that is a plus point. But you will still have to drop off the discs to a post box. So this is a half-step convenience akin to you calling the DVD rental company to deliver the discs to you, but you still have to personally return the discs at their shop. So I'll rate this as a half-convenience.

However, for people who are very busy, live in outlying places, don't have their own private transport, and don't like to go out much, this may be a compelling selling point.

Titles: Range, Availability, Quality, Uniqueness & Frequency of New Releases:
This is debatable. Some brick stores have a bigger collection. The more important criteria is availability. My own experience is that it is harder to get hot (and of course new) titles from online stores. For brick stores, there is more transparency. You can actually see the titles that are available on the shelves. You can't do this with online stores. Unless they have a system to let subscribers see their queue number for the title, your guess is as good as mine as to when you will receive the discs requested. Next, the quality and frequency of new titles added. While online renters do have unique titles, these titles are not numerous enough to keep subscribers on a month to month basis.

My other pet peeve is the transparency of the titles offered by on line rental stores. Homepal allows you to view almost their whole catalog before signing up. The same cannot be said about Hollywoodclicks. This definitely deters serious renters like me from buying rental packages from them. How do they expect us to make a decision to re-subscribe when we don't know what titles are available from them? After all, the availability of product is the key to us buying their services. This is not lottery, lor.

Generally the staff is friendlier at Hollywoodclicks than Homepal; though in terms of disc turnround Homepal scores marginally better and their catalog titles seems better. The Homepal polystyrene packaging is more sturdy and less likely to result in breakages compared to Hollywoodclicks' thin ply cardboard sleeve. I once received a cracked DVD from Hollywoodclicks which I promptly return and luckily they did not charge me for it.

Final Assessment: Are Online DVD Rentals in Singapore Worthwhile?
At the bottom line, what counts is whether they have titles you want and can't get elsewhere. Here is a simply way to evaluate if it is worthwhile to sign up with a brick or online store monthly plan. Count the number of titles you must (high priority) borrow (excluding the new / hot titles which may be difficult to get even within a one month period) and divide it with the total package cost. If it is costs you $3 and below, go for it as this it. Whatever extra titles you get is a bonus which help will reduce the cost of your rental - assuming you want to borrow as many titles with your monthly rental plan.

Please do not get me wrong, I am not discouraging the usage of online DVD rentals. However, when we buy a service, we should expect a minimum standard, otherwise we should look for alternatives. In these uncertain times, it is not advisable to tie big sums of money or sign up for big rental plans in case the company goes belly up. Do that when the economy is healthy and expanding.

Advice to Heavy Renters
Don't sign up for the monthly plan continuously with one store. It will be taxing on your time and won't give you value for money as there won't be enough good titles for you to rent. Instead, sign up with a company that offers the traditional "no expiry plan" which enables you to use up the rental credits / coupons at a leisurely pace rather than on a monthly basis.

Criteria to Sign Up for A Monthly Plan
You sign up for a monthly plan when there are at least 10 titles you can almost definitely borrow within a month. (see "Final Assessment: Are Online DVD Rentals in Singapore Worthwhile?" above). Usually you will get good value for money if you sign up for their monthly plan once or twice per year. If you are a serious movie lover, you will sign up with different stores once a year - as and when they meet your monthly sign-up criteria.

Below are a comparison of services offered by the significant online DVD rental companies in Singapore:

DVD Blu-ray online rental companies singapore - Hollywoodclicks

Membership: Simple
Cost are reasonable, depending on the titles you are targeting for.
1-DVD-at-a-time $24.61
3-DVDs-at-a-time $41.73
5-DVDs-at-a-time 69.55
8-DVDs-at-a-time $104.86
Payment: Accepts Credit Cards
Sign-up is easy, Calls you to confirm your address before shipping
Free Trials: There is a two-week free trial per household
Free Shipping of Discs - dispatched Monday-Friday
Email notification of dispatch and receipt of DVDs
Packaging: Cardboard sleeve may result in damage of DVDs in transit.
Cancellation of rentals: At least 2 days before next renewal provided you return all the discs and cancel titles on your DVD Request List.
Phone Support: Friendly
Titles: Ultra-secretive about their titles. 12,000 DVDs (no Blu-Rays), several unique titles, only a limited number of titles can be viewed online before subscribing
Movie Information: Professional but basic
Pioneer in online business but not now the largest.

DVD Blu-ray online rental companies Singapore - HomePal

Membership: Complicated'
Cost are reasonable depending on the titles you are targeting for.
1-disc-at-a-time $22.95/month
3-disc-at-a-time $36.95/month
5-discs-at-a-time $53.95/month
Accepts Casual memberships @ $5 with refundable deposit of at least $50 per disc.
Payment: Accepts Credit Cards, WorldPay, GIRO and Cheques (which have to be cleared before the service begins)
Free Trials: None
Sign-up is easy, Calls you to confirm your address before shipping
Email notification of dispatch and receipt of DVDs
Free Shipping of Discs - dispatched Monday-Saturday
Packaging: Sturdy polystyrene sleeve less likely to result in damage of DVDs in transit.
Cancellation of rentals: At least 2 days before next renewal provided you return all the discs and cancel titles on your DVD Request List.
Phone Support: Not So Friendly
Titles: Secretive. Does not state how many DVDs (no Blu-Rays) they have for rental (claim to be 10,000), several unique titles, can view most titles online before subscribing.
Movie Information on Website: More info than Hollywoodclick though there are some typo errors. They have a search by alphabetical listing which enables you to find out what they have quickly. Searching by genres is a waste of time as it frequently features the same title over many of the genres.

DVD Blu-ray online rental companies Singapore - VideoHub
Membership: Extremely Complicated.
Have not figured the cost yet, probably slightly more expensive than the two companies above. Will check them out when they meet my rental criteria.
$15.90 for 18 points and $75.90 for unlimited points. Different points are deducted for different types of discs (VCDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray discs). Very difficult to calculate unit costs, probably around $4 per DVD.
Accepts Casual memberships @ $5 with refundable deposit of at least $50 per disc.
Payment: Accepts Credit Cards, PayPal, Cheque, Bank Transfer, ATM. Need to pay a refundable deposit if you pay other than Credit Cards. Free Trials: 2 Week Free Trial, automatically signs you up to paid plan if you do not cancel after trial period has expired.
Sign-up is easy, Calls you to confirm your address before shipping
Email notification of dispatch and receipt of DVDs
Free Shipping of Discs - dispatched Monday-Saturday
Packaging: Sturdy polystyrene sleeve less likely to result in damage of DVDs in transit.
Cancellation of rentals: At least 2 days before next renewal provided you return all the discs and cancel titles on your DVD Request List.
Phone Support: Not Very Friendly
Titles: Secretive. Does not state how many DVDs, VCDs and Blu-Rays. They have for rental (claim to be 10,000), several unique mostly B titles, can view most titles online before subscribing.
Movie Information on Website: Good, but fancy Flash scripts resulting in slow loading of pages
Their cramped brick store is Starlight Video at AMK.

DVD Blu-ray online rental companies Singapore - Video EZY
About $1 more than your average rental store.
Not a full online store. You browse their website, call 6440 9331 and they will deliver the discs to your home by motorcycle much like a pizza delivery.
New Release Rental - $6.50/disc
Catalogue Rental - $5.50/disc
Delivery Charge - $2.50 each way for delivery and collection (However, if you rent additional movies when your titles are due for collection, we will waive the collection charge).
Extension Fee – All titles that are returned late are subject to a charge of $1 per title per day.
The first call is at 12pm and the last call is at 7pm
Advance order can be made no earlier than 24 hours prior to delivery
Ezy delivery is only applicable to DVDs (no deliveries for Blu-ray discs, you have to pick them up directly from their stores).
Pay the video delivery man by cash only. Means you will need someone at home to receive and pay the Video EZY deliveryman.

DVD Blu-ray online rental companies Singapore - 7 Frames


About $1 more than your average rental store.
DVD Rental Charges (no membership plans):
$5 for new titles and $4 for catalog for 2 day rental. Late returns is $1 per day per disc.
7 frames is not a full online DVD renting store, only small brick store in Upper East Coast Road. You visit their site and call their store at 68418416 or 64499809. They will deliver the discs by van 3 hours after the order had been placed. Pay the deliveryman by cash only. It means you will need someone at home to receive and pay the 7 frames deliveryman. Video Delivery /Collection start from 6pm
First call for orders start at 12pm and last call is at 8pm, everyday.
Titles: Limited, no Blu-rays
Website Info: Nice site but turn off the irritating background music.

Rental packages are subject to change. Please check the company's website before commiting to the service.

Well there you have it. If you know of other online stores in Singapore renting DVD / Blu-ray, please let me know via the Comments box below.

Till then, enjoy your DVD, Blu-ray movies etc.

Related Article: Best DVD Video Rental Companies in Singapore

© - Online DVD Rental Singapore Compared


Neerav said...

Thanks for the informative post.
I was also researching the dvd rental market in singapore, but with an intention of starting my own business in this line. I have some ideas, which are different from the ones which the current products offer.

but i have a basic feed back about these companies.

1) they over charge
2) the average of 3 days a disc is something we should get rid of.

some other ideas i have...but i needed info on how these guys get the DVD's they surely do not own so many titles...i am sure they have to tie up with distributors and all to create a virtual library. The websites are just so similar to NETFLIX. I am into IT my self and I have certain ideas to build my own website. Obviously will get it done from an independent web designing firm.

Also I had heard that one of the dvd online rental services in singapore was on-sale. Do you have an idea on the same.

comSG said...

Thanks for your comments, Neerav.

It is possible that some physical and online rental libraries do collaborate to a certain extent as their titles are quite similar. You could approach those stores which have a good catalog and don't have online stores.

In other instances, for old unpopular titles, these may be fake entries to boost their catalog. Having said that, they would still need a core catalog (mainly of newer titles) which is developed over time.

As you already know from my posts, the rental library scene in Singapore is very unimaginative. Just visit shops selling DVDs, Blu-rays (eg HMV, Borders, MJ, or even buy import them directly from overseas) and you see lots of titles not available from rental libraries. Some libraries do buy from these retail shops, but they cover a very small percentage of the new issues - usually it is the cheaper priced titles.

My advice is don't collect old titles that have been on rental for more than 2 years. I don't think many people are renting the old titles. You can find out how popular these old titles are by visiting Gramophone or Video EZY during peak hours and count the number of old titles rented per hour.

If you can buy up old titles at 20 cents to a dollar, then it is a good buy.

Buying over an existing online store gives you some added goodwill and existing customers (and of course, a discs catalog at a steep discount) but don't count too much on the goodwill factor.

These companies do change hands often as profit margins are not high especially if they are doing what other people are doing.

I reckon that catalog and marketing is probably more important than pricing.

Renters who return hot titles early (ie 1-2 Days) should also be rewarded in some way. (Maybe credit for the next rental renewal). This will help put hot titles on the shelf faster. Availability of hot titles is the key to consumer trust and loyalty.

I am more in favor of paying per title than in time based rental plans. If you are concerned about open ended contracts, perhaps you can make the plan automatically expire in one or two years for those infrequent renters. This must be clearly stated in the sign up page.

Probably variable rental pricing on titles will help cover costs and risks - like Catalog A (titles everybody has) and Catalog B (for unique titles). Cat B titles go into Cat A when everybody has them later.

Not sure if I've answered all your questions.

You can post further questions and if you want a private discussion via email do let me know.

Do let me know when you have started your biz. Will mention your company in this blog when it is up and running.

I may even be your customer if you have interesting titles I can't get elsewhere.

Good luck.