Miércoles 15 de Junio de 2005, Ip nº 113

Order Your Big Mac and DVD to Go
Por Holly J. Wagner

McDonald's is expanding tests for a national DVD rental service in its restaurants, promising to turn the fast-food chain into a do-it-yourself Netflix for road warriors.

The company has been testing a drop-off rental service in Denver through its Redbox subsidiary, letting customers rent discs for $1 a day. Today, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, becomes the fifth market where consumers can rent McDVDs, and the company plans to install its Redbox kiosks at 145 sites. Houston, Texas, will follow with 181 machines by July 1.

Soon travelers will be able to rent their way across the country. Munch in Minneapolis, rent Finding Nemo. Dine the next night in Washington, D.C., drop off Nemo and pick up SpongeBob Squarepants.

"This will be consistent in every market that we launch over the summer -- the first rental is on us," said Redbox spokesman Greg Waring. The company plans to have 1,200 kiosks in 10 markets by the end of this year, in McDonald's restaurants and at grocers.

The system melds the best elements of high- and low-tech, combining the immediacy of store rentals with the information and marketing of online services. Customers can see what's available and check for special offers online at Redbox. They can find locations, get maps and driving directions and, through a partnership with Yahoo, link to movie reviews. They can sign up for special offers by e-mail.

But even the digitally clueless won't have trouble finding participating stores. They'll have only to look behind the Playland posters or under the roof banners -- or in some cases the 68-foot inflatable vending machines perched above the golden arches. Think of it as a variation on the giant doughnuts and colossal hot dogs of Googie architecture.

Rentals are primarily the top 40 new releases, cost $1 a night for each (paid by credit card only) and are due by 10 p.m. the following day. If a customer keeps the disc, they are charged $1 a day until the disc is returned or 25 days have passed, when the renter becomes the owner.

The chain tested machines that stock up to 350 units in its 105 Denver, Colorado, stores. But going forward, new machines, commissioned from Solectron, are super-sized to hold 550 discs each. For now, that prevents inter-city returns, because the old and new machines run on different back-end systems. But after the new market rollouts, McDonald's will replace the older machines and bring everything onto one network.

McDonald's isn't the only company operating DVD vending machines. Its original machine supplier, DVDPlay, and a handful of other companies have machines dotted around the country in sites from supermarkets to restaurants and corporate commissaries to machines that sell instead of rent DVDs in movie theater lobbies.

The highest concentration is in New York, where a company called Moviebank recently opened what it calls the nation's first fully automated rental store at 71 Houston St. in Manhattan. Duane Reade drug stores also have mechanized rentals and ELO Media has machines in upstate Price Chopper markets. DVDXpress has machines in New York and New Jersey.

Most have one thing McDonald's doesn't -- online reservations. But so far, McDonald's is the only company trying to network a nationwide system of rental machines, and the only one with cross-town returns.

Summer travel will tell. Parents may not be able to resist the relief of playing Are We There Yet? on the in-car entertainment system, instead of hearing it as a munchkin mantra.


  13/06/2005. Wired Magazine.