Ahhh Blockbuster. As rumors of a possible bankruptcy filing for the movie rental giant swarm throughout the blogosphere, we’ve learned of a new policy change for Blockbuster’s Total Access program that may help the company finally concede victory to Netflix and the barrage of streaming video options currently available. For those who are unaware of the service, Total Access is Blockbuster’s movies-by-mail service that competes directly with Netflix. Queue desired rentals online, receive between one and three movies at a time through the mail and then each time you send a movie back, you’ll receive the next one on your queue to replace it.
Forgetting the fact that Netflix also allows you to stream thousands of not-so-current movies online for free, the one advantage Total Access had over Netflix was the ability for customers to hand mailed movies over to any Blockbuster location in exchange for free in-store movie rentals. The Blockbuster location would then mail your movies back and you could enjoy your in-store rentals as you wait for new flicks to arrive by mail. Long story short, Total Access subscribers have movies on hand at all times, unlike Netflix subscribers who must wait between two and five days for their new flicks to arrive. It’s actually a pretty sweet deal — or “was” as the case may be. The following excerpt from Blockbuster’s Total Access terms and conditions reveals the company is quietly doing away with its leg-up, basically leaving Netflix ahead of the game in every conceivable way:
How free in-store movie exchanges work with Online Rentals: Previously, free movie in-store exchange rentals were in addition to the number of DVDs allowed out at-a-time under your Total Access membership plan. However, beginning in February 2009 (in some store locations) and over the course of the next few months (in the remaining corporate and participating franchise stores), this policy will change in two ways. First, all free movie in-store exchange rentals will count towards the number of DVDs you are allowed out under your Total Access plan at any one time. Second, your free in-store exchanges will have no due dates and will not be subject to in-store rental terms. You may keep your free in-store movie exchanges as long as you want, as long as you are a paying Total Access subscriber. If you cancel your Total Access subscription, your free in-store rentals are due back to the store within five (5) days, to avoid any additional in-store fees, if applicable.
In other words, customers may still exchange mailed movies for free in-store rentals but new queued movies will not be delivered in the mail until the in-store rentals have been returned. So not only will Total Access customers find themselves without movies for a period of time — just like Netflix — but should they choose to take advantage of free in-store rentals it will now take two trips to a Blockbuster location in order to have new movies dispatched by mail. Prepare yourself, Netflix; you’re in for a flurry of new free trials.