Why watching movies at home could cost ‘A Fistful of Dollars’

Now isn't the best time for cost-conscious film and TV fans

Now isn't the best time for cost-conscious film and TV fans

Now isn’t the best time for cost-conscious film and TV fans. With Blockbuster going into administration this month, and the possibility of a cut in the TV licence, I’ve a bad feeling about the future.

As a MoneySaving movie and TV fan, I fear these events mean if we want both quality and choice over what we watch, we’re going to have to pay more for it. Why? Here are my thoughts.

Apart from a few independents, Blockbuster is the only high street shop you can rent films from. If it can’t be saved, then the only way to watch releases at home on DVD, without buying films outright, is to sign up to one of the remaining postal services, such as Lovefilm, or to stream films using the likes of iTunes and Blinkbox.

Less Apocalypse Now, more apocalypse by post

But renting by post isn’t instant, and it forces you into a monthly subscription. You certainly can’t choose a film to suit your mood or your plans – you watch what you’re sent, when you can, then wait for the next one, which completely ruins a box set marathon on a cold winter weekend.

And the problem with streaming is it can feel like you need more tech than The Matrix. To avoid viewing films with the picture quality of VHS, you need to have decent broadband, and a high data allowance to avoid a nasty bill if you’re an avid watcher.

An internet-ready TV is also useful for those who don’t have a console or laptop to connect (our Movie Streaming guide tells you how), but these aren’t things everyone can afford.

Another gripe I have with online streaming is that different sites have exclusive films. So even if you have a subscription for unlimited viewing, you’ll probably find half of what you want to watch isn’t available.

However, they do all offer free trials and some cheap intro deals, so you could try that first to see which site has what.

At the time of writing, of the UK’s 20 highest grossing films last year, only three were on Netflix (£5.99 a month), while 17 were on Sky’s Now TV (£8.99 a month). None were on Lovefilm Instant (£6-£13 per month).

If you want to watch Mad Men, you can only stream every series on Lovefilm. But if you fancy sampling Breaking Bad, it’s only available if you sign up to Netflix.

And, for the very latest releases, it’s pay-as-you-go only – you can rent Pixar’s Monsters University on Film4OD or Blinkbox for £3.50.

For me, it makes what should be simple home viewing confusing and potentially expensive.

A Licence to Kill off British TV?

The BBC’s licence fee is always a dividing issue, and governments wanting to be part of that debate is nothing new.

But recent MoneySavingExpert.com poll showed 69% of you think the current model needs changing. Of those that’d scrap it, 42% would rather have ads and 7% were in favour of a BBC subscription.

But while that would remove an enforced cost to you and me, I believe there’s an argument that if the BBC was battling against the likes of ITV and Channel 4 for advertisers’ money, then companies would be paying far less for TV ads now than they currently do to appear during Corrie or The X Factor.  

And if the BBC went subscription-only, it’s likely some wouldn’t sign up, which could also mean less money to make programmes.

Essentially, the result may be much smaller budgets and lead to more repeats and fewer good programmes made – not just on the BBC, but possibly on other channels, too.

The likes of Netflix, Amazon and Google could fill that funding gap, meaning you’d have to sign up to their services if you want to see the best programmes. With BT spending even more on sport, who’s to say it won’t move into original drama and comedy, as Sky has? Even more choice, even more costs.

Will Pirates of the Caribbean affect prices?

Not everyone rented films from shops in the first place, some got their fix through dodgy DVDs sold in the pub, then the web as piracy moved online. An Ofcom report earlier this year found a third of all movie downloads were pirated.

Movie piracy is illegal, so a court order for the likes of Sky, BT and Virgin to block torrent websites is good for copyright protection.

While absolutely not an argument for allowing piracy, could removing free, albeit illegal, competitors mean prices for legal services rise? Or will prices for those streaming or buying films go down as people drift to legal services?

We can look to the past for potential clues. When the original music pirate site, Napster, was shut down, it left a culture used to a limitless and free one-stop-shop for music, which eventually led to Spotify’s creation.

Though it has its critics and a handful of artists refusing to be part of it, you can now use Spotify, or its rivals, to listen to pretty much anything for free with ads, or pay for a premium service.

I’m hoping in a few years we’ll have the same for films, letting us choose based on price and experience, rather than which firm has what film.

And as fibre optic broadband and 4G roll out, the quality of downloads and streaming should improve.

But for now, I’m going to borrow my friend’s Sopranos box set… until a company can make me an offer I can’t refuse.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the discussion below, or in the forum.