Whitney Houston Fans: Amazon 1, Netflix 0
Whitney Houston's tragic passing and Kevin Costner's emotional eulogy over the weekend have combined to create a spike in demand for Time Warner's (NYS: TWX) The Bodyguard.
The 1992 movie -- which stars Costner as a former Secret Service agent protecting the pop starlet -- is hot again. Time Warner is rushing a Blu-ray version of the movie to hit the market next month. It's only available on DVD at the moment.
Add the DVD to your Netflix (NAS: NFLX) queue, as I did this morning, and you're likely to get the "very long wait" warning. It's an old movie, and surely Netflix isn't going to order more copies for a trend that will shortly subside.
It's not just Netflix dealing with demand outstripping supply. Even on Amazon.com (NAS: AMZN) , where most DVDs are usually on hand for quick shipping, prospective buyers this morning are being told that it will be at least a week before they get their copies.
However, Amazon has Netflix beat on this one.
"All at Once"
For starters, buying the DVD -- right now at a modest $5.97 -- isn't much more expensive than some rentals.
Forget kiosks offering rentals for as little as a buck or so a night. They only stock newer releases. Coinstar's (NAS: CSTR) Redbox doesn't have any copies through its tens of thousands of automated disc machines. The only Houston movie in its system is Waiting to Exhale, and even that's a rare find locally.
Rentals will require walking into your local Blockbuster. Not only will you probably startle the snoozing employees, but there's a good chance that the copy or two of the DVD has already been rented out.
So let's get back to Amazon. "Usually ships within 7 to 10 days" is a pretty grim warning for an impulsive purchase. Let's go elsewhere to see if --
What's that? Amazon is offering free streaming rentals with a DVD purchase? Yes, buy the DVD now and you have instant access to a streaming version of the movie. Computers and a growing number of Web-tethered devices have access to Amazon's streaming platform. The rental expires either two days after the viewer begins watching or 30 days after the disc purchase -- whichever comes first. It's a pretty sweet deal for $5.97 to get a disc that will arrive in two weeks and a stream that's instantly available while you wait.
And it gets better.
"Run to You"
Most observers of the streaming market will point out how Amazon's digital catalog -- the titles it makes available to Amazon Prime members at no additional cost -- is far inferior to Netflix's vault.
That's typically true, but guess which one has The Bodyguard available as a stream at no additional cost?
Yes, Amazon has the flick available as a free stream to folks paying $79 a year for Prime's plan of free two-day shipping and monthly Kindle rentals. It's naturally the site's top stream at the moment.
Netflix no longer has The Bodyguard available through its streaming service.
There was some controversy over the weekend about the timing of the film's removal from Netflix's digital library. Reports began to circulate about Time Warner opportunistically pulling the streaming rights after Houston's death, and one account had a Netflix service rep confirming that to be the case.
Well, Netflix PR rep Steve Swasey cleared the air with AllThingsD's Peter Kafka last night. Time Warner didn't pull the streaming rights last week. Netflix actually decided not to renew the license after it expired at the end of last year.
I don't think that makes Netflix look any better, though.
"I Have Nothing"
One certainly can't blame Netflix for the unfortunate timing here. The Bodyguard is 20 years old, and -- to be fair -- it was a pretty hokey movie. Netflix is a master of data crunching, and it knows what its subscribers are watching relative to the cost of streaming licenses.
However, since we're now just days away from seeing Liberty Media (NAS: LMCA) pull its magnetic Starz titles from Netflix's streaming catalog, do we need another reminder that streaming content is unreliable?
There's a Chinese documentary on Netflix that I know I need to stream tonight, since Last Train Home will be gone tomorrow. It's just another reminder that DVD rentals through Netflix are ultimately more reliable than the company's fluctuating digital catalog.
Right now, it just seems as if Amazon has Netflix beat in this tiny battle. As Houston CDs and DVDs sell out at retail stores, Amazon is there for the digital downloads. Yes, The Bodyguard is also available as a digital purchase -- something that Netflix seems to have no intention of offering in the near future.
It's a bad break for Netflix, and hopefully Amazon is smart enough to capitalize on this situation.
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At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been a Netflix subscriber and shareholder since 2002. He does not own shares in any of the other stocks in this story, except for Liberty Media. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.
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