Via Chicago
— Errata Movie Podcast —

The Netflix DVD rental service has fundamentally changed how I rent movies. I've used it for two and a half years. My DVDs come quickly, the selection is good, the site is stable, and they've never sent me the wrong disc.

But recently the cool kids have been switching to a competing service called GreenCine (which they say is pronounced "green scene"). GreenCine offers the same rental model at the same price, but their raison d'être is that they have a selection that better appeals to cinephiles and alternative movie lovers.

I'm not a very big watcher of anime or midnight horror, but there have been a few times when a movie that I've wanted to see was available on DVD but was not available at Netflix. GreenCine claims to fix this. I've been so happy with Netflix that I haven't wanted to jump ship without more info, so for the last few months I've had accounts at both services so I can compare them side-by-side.

Here are a few observations:

  • GreenCine is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, so for me, the turnaround time is really fast. Netflix is fast, too. I recently returned two movies at the same time, one to GreenCine and one to Netflix, and both were received by their respective services the next day. These discs were returned on a Wednesday; I'm not sure if the services differ on weekend handling, but they both seem to be quick enough for me. Netflix has more processing centers around the country; I assume the further you get from the Bay Area, the slower GreenCine gets.
  • The selection at GreenCine is slightly better, but Netflix is not nearly as restrictive as some people think, at least in my experience. I'm not renting anime or cult movies, but I do have pretty wildly eclectic rental habits. I haven't rented a popular new release in a long time. I could go through my Netflix rental history and my current rental queue and compare it against what's available at GreenCine, but who has time for that? Instead, I've been sticking with Netflix and using GreenCine, during this testing period, only for those movies that I currently want to see but have been unable to queue at Netflix.

    A list of such movies:

    Days of Being Wild,
    The Kingdom (I and II),
    Tales from the Gimli Hospital,
    Decline fo the American Empire,
    Suzhou River,
    The Gospel According to St. Matthew,
    Mr. Arkadin,
    Day of Wrath,
    Summer at Grandpa's (and other region 0 Hou discs),
    Salt of the Earth,
    Sunrise (older disc only),
    Scarface (Hawks),
    and The Blue Angel (German and English versions).

  • However, the selection at Netflix includes a few things that GreenCine's doesn't:

    A Couch in New York
    Finding Buck McHenry

    (two minor movies from great filmmakers). Don't compare the sizes of these lists. Since I'm conducting this comparison in an ad hoc way, my daily routine doesn't regularly uncover movies that Netflix stocks but GreenCine doesn't. If I switched to using GreenCine for my main queue and Netflix only for those things GreenCine doesn't stock, I might get a better idea of what GreenCine lacks. These discs that I've found could be the only two that I care anything about.

  • As of today my queue at GreenCine, which is stocked only with GreenCine "exclusives," is entirely unavailable. The disc availability at Netflix has fluctuated over the years but currently seems to be really good. Over 200 discs in my queue are available "now" and one of them has a "short wait". And that's the entire queue. But all nine things on my GreenCine queue are "orange" or "red" today, the two lowest of five availability levels. They owe me a disc, but I can't get one until something on my queue becomes available. Note of course that the same 200 discs that are available now at Netflix may also be available now at GreenCine. Ad hoc data gathering is funny that way. But it does underscore that if your primary interest is in these discs that Netflix doesn't have, you may want to know that you can't get them all right away. Patience.

    UPDATE: Suddenly the availability of three items in my stuck GreenCine queue have turned to green, which means "available now". I wonder if their queue processing algorithm goes into "unstick" mode in such cases. My queue was only stuck for about a day and a half.

  • GreenCine's queue has a couple of nifty features that aren't available at Netflix: 1) you can lock your queue so that discs only come in the order that you've listed them. At Netflix (and by default at GreenCine), discs come generally in order but unavailable discs will be skipped until they become available. But more useful for me is that 2) you can create a "personal series" that lets you group a few DVDs to see in a particular order regardless of availability, such as episodes of The Sopranos. It's a very cool power feature; I haven't tried it.
  • It's a minor point, but GreenCine's page designs are clumsy. Some pages are strangely wide, text wraps in funny places, tables are unattractive... in general I think they could present their data in a way that's more pleasing to the eye and easier to scan.
  • One of the discs I received from GreenCine was completely cracked, snapped in half. I've received some scratched discs in the past from Netflix that wouldn't play on my old, finicky player, but I've never received one that was completely cracked. My mother in another state has, though.

    But that's not noteworthy unless it happens frequently. What's interesting is how the services deal with it. When you have a problem disc at Netflix, you go to your queue and click "report shipping problem" which guides you through a short wizard to identify the issue and notify them if necessary. The nice thing about this is that when you have a problem disc, Netflix tells you to send it back and immediately sends you the next thing in your queue without waiting to receive the bad disc.

    At GreenCine, I had to look around on their site for a while before I knew what to do with my cracked disc — the FAQ says you can send email to their support group. You're also supposed to check a "damaged" box on your return envelope, which you can also do at Netflix, but I was looking around online so that I wouldn't lose a day or two while my report travelled through the mail. Once I figured out how to notify GreenCine — by email — a person responded via email and I got a replacement disc likety-split. This crystalizes the difference between the two services for me, as they are today: GreenCine is more human but less streamlined, and I guess I'd prefer streamlined, if all else were equal.

  • GreenCine packs some of its discs in little foam sleeves, discs that they've determined are prone to damage. The replacement disc for my cracked one came in a cardboard sleeve even thicker than the foam sleeves. GreenCine pays the extra shipping, so there's no problem except in one case: the cardboard sleeve was so thick that it had split open the paper envelope that I'm supposed to use to return the disc. I just taped it closed and sent it on its way. Netflix just uses paper sleeves all the time and presumably eats the cost at the replacement end instead of the shipping end.
  • Netflix's prices are going up slightly this month for the first time in a long time. GreenCine has not mentioned, as far as I know, changing their prices, but they don't usually list price among their competitive advantages, so I expect them to keep pace with Netflix, but that's just a hunch. They could probably make use of the extra cash.
  • It was easy to sign up at GreenCine, just as it was easy to sign up at Netflix. In this business, the barrier to entry may not be very high; someone could come in and take either company's customers away, as GreenCine is doing to Netflix. This is good for us, the customers, I suppose. It's interesting to watch the services emphasize retention. My large queue at Netflix is a magnet for me. I'd have to get that out of there and into GreenCine if I wanted to switch services. GreenCine tries to foster a community with discussion groups, a popular blog, and a more human face. Ultimately, though, businesses that are built around shipping little plastic saucers of data across the country are doomed unless they expand into a new model eventually. As online music sales are suggesting, the plastic saucers may not be around for long. This business quandary doesn't affect me today as a customer, but it's why I wouldn't invest in either company, unless you believe that Netflix can solve the download problem, as they hope to. But since the only thing I have invested in Netflix is my queue, if someone else solves the download problem better or sooner, I'd be happy to use it. I'm not wedded.

The bottom line: for myself, I haven't decided. I don't think a dozen exclusive movies and a few queue features are enough to get me to leave Netflix, which I'm quite happy with. Once I've seen the existing exclusives, it's not clear that GreenCine will continue to stay in front of Netflix (although they seem to think they will). I can probably rent these locally, somewhere, on the relatively rare occasion that a region 1 DVD exists and I want to see it and Netflix doesn't stock it and GreenCine does. If I were in charge of Netflix, I'd add these titles and torpedo GreenCine's primary advantage overnight.

But if I were someone just starting with one of these services, especially if I lived in the Bay Area, I'd probably go with GreenCine.

Posted by davis | Link
Reader Comments
May 7, 2004, 02:55 PM

That's a really informative article, Rob. I've heard rumors that one or both of these sites plan to start offering non-region 1 titles...have you heard anything about this? That would immediately preference me.

May 7, 2004, 04:29 PM

I would love some discs from other regions, too. The two services are so close that if one of them started offering a bunch of non-region 1 discs, it would easily tip the scales.

GreenCine does offer a few all-region discs, like the Hou collection (which I already own, so it doesn't affect me). They don't offer a way to search for these. In fact, their FAQ says that they're purposely keeping quiet about which ones are region 0. I'm not sure why.

Other than that, I don't know anything about what either service is planning. Do you know if there are licensing issues? I'm kind of curious about what's going to happen when the powers that be realize how easy it is to get an all-region player and how popular that's becoming (or is it just here in our little bubble?).

May 14, 2004, 08:37 AM

By the way Rob, there is a service that rents multi-region DVDs:

I've heard they're quite dependable.

May 14, 2004, 08:47 AM

Oh ho! Very cool. I may have to give this a try. It's more expensive than Netflix or GreenCine, but these truly are discs that those two services don't have. Thanks, Doug.

May 25, 2004, 12:51 PM

I tried Greencine for about six mos. Their availability situation was pretty sad---I was waiting about four months for some titles and they still hadn't become available. Their emphasis on number of titles over quantity creates a very impacted availability situation. Their customer services is good but month after month of not getting much of diddly (and their shipping situation with the USPS exacerbated this situation) drove me back to Netflix.

May 25, 2004, 01:31 PM

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for that data point. I remember a couple of years ago when the Netflix availability situation was pretty spotty. They obviously solved the problem, though, and figured out how to scale. GreenCine has yet to, according to various reports like yours.

May 31, 2004, 09:20 AM

Check out
New Game/Movie rental company with several Dist points and 28,000 Titles available. Rumor is there will be a new website soon. They have an Annual Plan of $222 for 6 dvds/games out per month. I get mine 3 days after I place my selection in my queue.

June 2, 2004, 07:33 AM

Thanks for the tip, Keith. It's interesting that Netflix, which once seemed like a crazy delusion born of the dot-com era — rent movies online? through the mail? — has become a widely imitated business model.

Unfortunately, seems to have a very limited selection, based on a sampling of searches. It may be good for folks who are interested in games but probably not international cinema.

May 27, 2008, 08:54 AM

For the mentally liberated, the lonely folks, and fun-loving couples, Greencine has the brass to offer a serious helping of 'adult' stuff. This is what tipped the scale for me and my wife. They call it Bluecine, but its all the same service. Netflix was way too focused on being family friendly for us.

May 10, 2009, 05:51 PM

Since Netflix switched from the near-DVD-quality Windows Media player to the YouTube-quality Silverlight player, I've been looking for something better, but haven't found anything to compete with Netflix's selection when it comes to foreign and independent films.

GreenCine looked promising at first, but over half of the foreign films in my Netflix queue are not available from GreenCine. Plus Netflix has a distribution center in my town, while GreenCine is in California.

January 6, 2010, 10:47 PM

I had Greencine when I lived in San francisco and I started out happy, but then I had a problem with lost disc's. They just were not showing up in the mail. Some never came and some showed up weeks after their ETA. I complained to Green Cine since I had payed for a couple of months and pretty much got to see one film in that time span. They were very short with me and told me that they didn't control the mail--which they didn't, but neither did I. All they really would have needed to do was send me an extra film or two, but they choose to be jerks. So I cancelled. I have Netflix now and I'm pretty happy with it.

July 2, 2010, 12:50 AM

In 97, GC switched their distribution center from SF to Van Nuys, and all of a sudden it was taking 11 days on average to ship a movie and get a new movie back (compared to 2 days previously). I stuck with it for a bit, and then reluctantly switched over to Netflix.

I've been happy ever since.

It stuns me that GC even exists still. Choose any new movie, and only 5 people or so will have rated it. Do they really have that small a user base (or that small a DVD inventory)?

February 8, 2011, 09:48 PM

I also started greencine excited and got frustrated with unavailability of desired films several years ago and went to netflix. I just checked up here on greencine again to see if there are reports of improvement, which there is not. Too bad. I want to find a source for interesting docs on art, music, architecture, graphics etc. It seems there should be thousands of them by beginning, small-scale filmmakers and yet I have not been able to find them. Maybe I am just not skilled enough yet in doing research. Anyone with tips please suggest. Thanks!