Feedback for Amazon and TiVo about Unbox on TiVo

I love Amazon Unbox video downloads for TiVo. When Amazon first unveiled Unbox, I was leery of its proprietary desktop playback solution. I don’t want to watch a movie at my computer. I want to sit back and use my remote—I don’t want to have to fumble clumsily with my mouse for some soft pause button hidden who-knows-where on the screen.

Unbox on TiVo solves this problem. I can go online anywhere to rent movies, Amazon pushes the movies to my TiVo automatically, and I can watch them on my TiVo, just like any other recorded video in my Now Playing list. Well, not just like. Almost just like. Unbox rentals expire 30 days after downloading or 24 after first playing them—whichever comes first. This is a pretty standard model, but it still sucks. It means that you likely can’t start to watch a movie one night and then finish it later. You also can’t shuffle Unbox content between your TiVo boxes, so you can’t start the movie in the family room, and then finish watching it in your bedroom using TiVo’s multi-room viewing feature. And it gets worse. Apparently, Amazon does not permit you to re-rent an Unbox video once it has “expired!”

I recently rented Stranger than Fiction from Amazon Unbox. If you’re unfamiliar with this movie, the movie follows a man whose life is being scripted by an author who kills off her hero in every book. The whole question of this movie is: will the hero die at the end or won’t he? I watched Stranger than Fiction at the end of the 24-hour period on the last of the 30-days’ viewing window. Five minutes before the movie’s end, my TiVo deleted it automatically. I had reached the end of my permitted viewing period. OK, anyone could argue that it’s my fault that I waited until (literally) the last minute, but c’mon…there should be some slack there while it’s actually playing. Adding insult, I can’t rent the video again through Unbox. Amazon’s site apparently doesn’t allow it.

Were I renting from Netflix or from some brick and mortar store, I’d have the ability to re-rent something that I didn’t get the chance to watch or to finish. If the movie rental business is ever going to work in the digital world, you’re going to have to be more flexible and at least provide the minimum of services available through traditional retailers. Give me the option to extend my rental period (even if at a cost). Give me the ability to re-rent content. And give me more flexibility on when and where I can watch the video. If digital rentals can’t ultimately provide these options, then they’re doomed to stand behind the superior offerings of companies like Netflix and Apple—companies that better understand and respect how people want to consume media.

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