Why You Should Be Watching Now

Movies are a passion of mine. I love the classics, the new stuff, even the junk. And I love them all the more when I can get them on demand. That's why I'm a fan of Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) and its Watch Now streaming service.

But being a Mac guy, I had to try the new iTunes movie-rental service. I had to know how badly Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) had stuck it to Netflix. After taking in Ocean's Thirteen in two sittings I can say ... not very. Here's why.

First, iTunes required that I download Ocean's Thirteen as if I were buying it. Not so with Watch Now, which demands only a one-time download of the Netflix movie player. The rub? iTunes isn't really streaming video. At least not the way Netflix, YouTube, or others do it.

Second, all movies rented via iTunes are on a 24-hour clock once they're started, just as Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) demands with its Unbox service. I much prefer Watch Now, where I can begin an episode of Heroes on Wednesday and finish on Saturday.

Yet Watch Now isn't without its own problems. You won't find new releases on Watch Now unless your interest is in television. Want Ocean's Thirteen from Netflix? Put it in your queue; the DVD is in the mail.

Video quality can also be a problem at Watch Now, especially if a ladybug steps on a network wire and brings my data feed to a screeching halt. iTunes, by contrast, delivered a flawless picture to my Mac -- though I've watched only one movie via the service.

Long live the red envelope
When it comes to entertainment, we're slow adopters of technology. High-definition TVs, a must as of next year, are only now gaining steam. Best Buy still sells VHS-compatible video players. And we continue to talk as if satellite radio from Sirius (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) and XM (Nasdaq: XMSR  ) is a recent innovation, even though both services began operating more than five years ago.

Call it one of the many reasons I think the DVD is alive and well and will be for years to come -- regardless of the relentless march of alternative formats such as Blu-ray.

Still, after my viewing experience, I can't get past the technology behind this so-called Apple vs. Netflix throwdown. One offers real, if flawed, streaming. The other is a download service disguised as streaming.

I've no idea which approach will win. But along with the futures of Netflix and Apple, the future of video and Web-content delivery boys such as Akamai (Nasdaq: AKAM  ) , an Apple partner, and Limelight Networks (Nasdaq: LLNW  ) is at stake.

Watch Now? I can't think of a better name.

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