DVDs on your doorstep

4 Mar 2003

The arrival of DVD (digital versatile disk) has had huge impact on the home entertainment sector. While the video cassette was the medium that brought movies into the home, DVD is the standard that aims to supersede it.

The huge capacity of the disks allows for higher quality of sound and picture along with room for extra features such as documentaries, interviews with the cast and subtitles in a range of languages. This improved quality has also fuelled a boom in home entertainment equipment such as widescreen TVs and home theatre sound systems, as viewers try to recreate the cinema experience in their living rooms.

While DVD is now a standard fixture in your average rental store, the format has prompted one Irish start-up to provide a fresh approach to the concept of movie rentals. Dvdrentals.ie is the brainchild of Frank O’Grady. The site can be best described as an online movie rental outlet. Users sign up for a monthly fee. They then pick a list of the movies they’d most like to see. The highest available movie on their list will be posted to them. Once they’re finished with it, they send it back in a pre-paid envelope. Once the DVD is returned, the next available movie on their list will be posted to them. Users can keep the movies as long as they like with no ‘late fees’. However, the quicker you return them, the more you’ll get each month. The standard (Bronze) package costs €19.99 per month. This allows users to receive one DVD at a time. The Silver package costs €27.99 per month and allows users to receive two DVDs at a time. The Gold package, meanwhile, costs €34.99 per month and allows users to rent three DVDs at a time.

O’Grady previously worked as an IT manager and was based in the US when he came across Netflix, a US company with a similar distribution model. Deciding that the concept would work in Ireland, he applied for voluntary redundancy and came home to set up Dvdrentals.ie. The site has been up and running since January of last year and in that time O’Grady has been busy growing a customer base and expanding the business. The company now employs three people. Currently it is posting around 4,000 DVDs a month.

O’Grady feels that the business has a number of unique selling points. For a start, low overheads allow it to compete on cost and frequent movie watchers will save money compared to using traditional movie rental outlets. Secondly, it’s useful for those in remote rural areas, where access to movie rentals may be limited or some distance away. For example, he has a good few customers in Schull, Co Cork.

He also believes that he has a greater range of movies than most rental outlets, which ought to be good news for those who’ve walked into their local video store and walked out empty handed, despairing at the homogenous selection of action movies and romantic comedies. “While the major rental stores concentrate on new releases, we’re aiming for a broader range. We’ve a big demand for foreign language and art house films,” says O’Grady.

O’Grady says he has spent a significant amount of money in the past year on increasing the range. The site features a ‘suggestions’ section, which provides valuable feedback from users on what films the company should invest in.

As well as growing its stock, the site is also concentrating on growing its customer base. “In the early days, most of our customers were tech savvy business people and word spread through word of mouth. We’ve been attempting to grow our profile through a series of promotional tie-ins with the likes of Popcorn, the movie show on TV3 and Cork 96FM,” says O’Grady. A stand at the Toys for Boys exhibition last year attracted a lot of interest and also led to a lucrative sideline in selling home cinema equipment. A sister site in the gaming arena is also in the offing.

While the site offers a new dimension to movie rentals in Ireland, O’Grady isn’t keen to sit on his laurels. He feels that it is only a matter of time before the big players in the industry go online and the company is already preparing for that eventuality.

By Dick O’Brien