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Verizon to set up streaming service with Redbox

Mon, 02/06/2012 - 3:07pm
The Associated Press

Verizon Communications will challenge Netflix and start a video streaming service this year with Redbox and its DVD rental kiosks.

Verizon and Coinstar, Redbox's parent, say the service will be national and available to non-Verizon customers, as well. It adds another leg to Verizon's quest to become a force in home entertainment, and it looks set to compete to some extent with the cable TV services it already sells.

Verizon has its own cable TV service, called FiOS, in some areas. Its Verizon Wireless subsidiary has also signed a deal to sell service from Comcast and other cable companies in its stores.

With the Redbox venture, Verizon is breaking ranks with the cable and satellite industry, which makes its own video streaming services available only to people who also subscribe to its traditional TV feeds. They don't want households switching to Internet-only services, which are cheaper – Netflix charges $8 per month for its video streaming plan.

Verizon's own FiOS business is relatively small, with 4.2 million subscribers, making it the seventh-largest provider of TV signals to U.S. homes. Meanwhile, its landline phone business is shrinking, so it needs other avenues for growth. Its wireless arm is growing, but it owns only 55 percent of that venture (Vodafone Group of Britain owns the rest).

Verizon and Coinstar didn't reveal prices or other details of their service. It's intended to give subscribers access to DVD and Blu-ray discs, as well as streaming movies, starting in the second half of the year, they said.

New York-based Verizon Communications will own 65 percent of the unnamed venture, with Bellevue, Wash.-based Coinstar owning the rest. Redbox is contributing an initial $14 million to the venture, according to a regulatory filing. It did not say how much Verizon would contribute.

In morning trading Monday, Coinstar's stock gained 31 cents to $49.97. Verizon shares rose 6 cents to $37.90. Netflix shares fell $3.61, or 2.9 percent, to $122.82.

Netflix already has a couple of powerful competitors with video streaming services. Amazon provides a library of movies and TV shows to subscribers to its Amazon Prime shipping services. Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, has a streaming service called Vudu.

Neither of these competitors combines Internet delivery of movies with DVDs, like Netflix does. However, Netflix started charging separately for its DVDs-by-mail and online streaming services last year, saying DVDs are on their way out and Internet delivery is its focus.

Netflix alienated customers even more when it said it would split the two services completely, forcing customers to deal with two movie queues. It backed off that plan after an outcry, demonstrating that customers found value in the combination of Internet movies and discs from one company.

Redbox appears to have benefited from Netflix's troubles, picking up some of the customers who have defected from its DVD service. It now claims to be the biggest DVD rental service in the country, thanks to its more than 28,000 kiosks in drugstores and supermarkets.

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