Online DVD Rentals Pretty Popular

It’s hard to find a business that is not squeezed and doing worse than it was a year ago. But there is one, and you can look no further than your DVD player to find it. Maybe because we’re all hanging out at home a bit more as money tightens, we’re getting through a long, cold winter, or more people have heard about the benefits of Netflix, but the DVD-by-mail business is signing up new members every day. Netflix hit 10 million subscribers this month, taking in 600,000 new members since January.

The company’s success is easily traced to how many options it gives us to rent and watch videos. Plans start at $5 a month, including $8.99 a month for an unlimited number of DVDs, one at a time, to $16.99 for unlimited DVDs, three at a time. Included in the unlimited plans is the "watch instantly" feature to watch a limited number of movies and TV shows on your computer, TiVo, Xbox 360, Roku box, or LG television sets. Netflix sells a $99 Roku box to allow you to play "watch instantly" selections on your TV, but you can do the same using an S-video cable and toggling to your TV monitor using the function and monitor keys on a PC.

We use the "watch instantly" feature as much as the Netflix DVDs. The selection is okay, getting better (but still not great) every month. It had better get even better if Netflix follows through on plans to offer a streaming-only subscription that would tap into the "watch instantly" selection for a monthly fee. There are no details yet, but several bloggers have suggested a $5 monthly subscription is probably a fair number for this kind of service.

Among the whopping 600,000 new subscribers in January were my parents, who have been enjoying the ease and selection of the service. It just plain works.

Is your family using online services for home entertainment — be it movies or video games — more during this uncertain winter?