Redbox has made it easier than ever to rent movies and games. With kiosks (red cubicle structures that allow you to drop off or pick up videos) at almost every street corner, Redbox has become one of the most popular video rental options today.
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Redbox is quite the adaptation success story. From DVD rental vending machines to hybrid purchase/ad-supported online streaming, Redbox has changed with the times and kept on trucking.
It’s clear from its business strategies that Redbox understands that convenience in video renting and buying is of the utmost importance. But do they meet the challenges of 2022 and beyond?
|✔ No subscription fees||❌ Ads for free content|
|✔ Smooth, user-friendly interface||❌ Limited free selection|
|✔ Free content available||❌ Limited original content|
Way back in the early aughts, McDonald’s (yes, the fast food restaurant) started experimenting with convenience store vending machines. They didn’t do very well, but one member of the team, Gregg Kaplan, thought the concept was good. He thought they just needed a different product.
Netflix was just starting to impinge on Blockbuster and Hollywood Video’s turf with online mail-order DVD rentals. This led to the rise of Redbox‘s bright red machines. They had many advantages. They were extremely simple to use, super-cheap, and — best of all — you could return the DVDs or video games to any machine, not just the one you rented them from.
By 2007, Redbox had more locations than Blockbuster, and continued going strong as the brick-and-mortar rental stores went out of business and through multiple legal battles with movie studios.
These days, the cheerful red machines are still common in or around supermarkets, minimarts, and drug stores. But Redbox is not getting (completely) left behind by the streaming boat. In 2017, it started offering Redbox On Demand, which allows customers to rent or buy videos online.
In 2019, it released its first Redbox Original, the indie movie Benjamin. Later that same year it formed Redbox Entertainment, a movie and TV production arm. In 2020, it launched Redbox Free Live TV, and took the company public in 2021.
Though hit hard by the pandemic (and accompanying Hollywood dry spell), Redbox has big plans for the future and its 39 million members as it continues to transition to a hybrid disc/digital model.
Redbox is actually several different services, as the company experiments with diversifying and trying on different streaming models.
At the Box
This would be the now-familiar, nigh-inescapable red kiosks. In addition to being able to select at the machine, you can still reserve DVDs and Blu-Ray online and pick them up at the box most convenient to you. Price seems to vary a little, but is generally around $2/day for each title, more for Blu-Ray.
Hardcore fans of renting DVDs can enroll in Redbox+, a yearly subscription program that gives you 12-24 free rentals from a pre-selected pool of movies and gives Redbox renters until midnight to return their videos (normally the return cut-off is 9 pm).
Redbox On Demand is the evolution of the earlier streaming service, Redbox Instant. Instead of trying to go directly head-to-head with Netflix, On Demand has no subscription plan and offers popular new releases along with older titles for rental or purchase.
Rentals start at $1.99 for older titles, $3.99 for new releases. Like most streaming rentals, you have 30 days from purchase to start the movie, and 48 hours to watch it once you start it.
Redbox has featured several “home theatrical” releases over the last couple of years. This means you can rent movies while they’re still in theaters. It ain’t cheap, though: around $20-25 (that’s for renting, remember, not buying). It’s unclear if this was a special thing for the duration of the pandemic, or if it will continue now that people can go back to actual theaters.
Free Live TV
Redbox Free Live TV is the most recent addition to Redbox’s streaming efforts, which partnered at launch with Lionsgate. The key to appreciating Free Ad-supported Streaming Television (FAST) services is to manage expectations. Comparing it to any service you pay for is unfair. Comparing it to other FAST services, such as Pluto TV, XUMO, or Tubi TV, you will probably note that the user interface is easy to manage and unlike some free services, there’s no requirement to make an account.
On the other hand, it has a lot less content, and what it has tends to be older, more obscure, and not particularly exclusive. You can find the same stuff on all the other FAST services.
It’s still relatively new, but without the corporate media backing such as Fox, Comcast, or Paramount Global that other FASTs enjoy, Redbox is going to have a tough time competing.
Note that the news and sports “live” streaming is going to be more what you’re used to from Gas Station TV news briefs: less time-sensitive breaking news, more updates on celebrities or human interest stories. Sports will be old highlight clips, nothing televised as it’s happening.
Free On Demand
Launched about six months after Free Live TV, Redbox added on-demand movies to their free offerings alongside the live channels. You won’t find the latest megablockbuster here, or even much that was made in the last ten years. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything worth watching.
Notable current titles include:
- But I’m a Cheerleader (1999, Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall)
- Nightbreed (1990, Clive Barker)
- The Proposition (2005, Guy Pearce and Emily Watson)
- Cube (1998)
Redbox has produced almost a dozen Redbox Original Movies from 2019 through the present, with more on the way. These are released exclusively on Redbox, usually for a few months. After that, they can sometimes be found on other services. All have at least one big-name attached but the reviews have been mixed.
- Benjamin: Directed by and starring Bob Saget in a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family staging an intervention for teen Benjamin, the presumed addict.
- The Fanatic: Thriller starring John Travolta as a horror fan obsessed with his favorite actor, played by Devon Sawa.
- Running With the Devil: Two cartel higher-ups (Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne) examine the cocaine supply chain back from Canada to Mexico to figure out where a large shipment went missing.
- Capone: Follows an increasingly dementia-ridden Al Capone (Tom Hardy) from his release from prison through his death from syphilis eight years later.
- Becky: A teenage girl (Lulu Wilson) violently turns the tables on three escaped convicts (leader played by Kevin James) who invade the lake house where she and her family are staying — sort of like John Wick meets Home Alone.
- Chick Fight: When luckless Anna (Malin Åkerman) finds herself personally tied to a women-only underground fight club, she enlists retired boxing coach Jack Murphy (Alec Baldwin) to train her for a big fight against the club’s undefeated champion (Bella Thorne).
- The Informer: An ex-convict-turned-informant (Joel Kinnaman) finds himself caught between the Polish Mafia and corrupt FBI brass.
- Shadow in the Cloud: A WWII pilot (Chloë Grace Moretz) carrying classified materials on a B-17 Flying Fortress is beset by misogynistic soldiers, a gremlin, and enemy Japanese planes.
- SAS: Red Notice: Basically a British Die Hard on a train in the Channel Tunnel, with an SAS officer (Sam Heughan) as John McClane and revenge-bent mercenary (Ruby Rose) as Hans Gruber.
- American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally: The true story of an American woman trapped in Berlin (Meadow Williams) when WWII begins and is co-opted by the Nazi propaganda machine. Al Pacino co-stars as her defense attorney at her trial for treason.
Redbox provides an excellent user interface regardless of what device you use.
Redbox Supported Devices
Redbox supports the following devices for Free On Demand and Free Live TV:
- Android mobile
- Android TV
- iOS (iPhone,iPad)
- LG smart TVs
- VIZIO SmartCast
- Web Browser
- Xbox One
For rentals and purchases, they support:
- Android mobile
- Android TV
- LG smart TVs
- Samsung smart TVs
- VIZIO SmartCast
- Web Browser
Surprisingly, there is no app for the Amazon Fire TV, but you can still use Redbox with it via the Silk browser. Also notably absent is the Apple TV device.
Redbox’s interface is intuitive and has clearly laid out sections for physical disc rentals, online on-demand rentals, online free on-demand movies, and Free Live TV.
Since the Free Live content doesn’t require a login, you can watch it on as many devices or screens as you like. If you’re watching a rental or purchase, you’re limited to two screens at a time.
There doesn’t seem to be any support for multiple profiles, nor are there any parental controls. So parents should be aware of that.
Redbox offers 4K UHD discs from its kiosks but doesn’t stream in 4K.
While you don’t have to create an account to enjoy any of the free content, if you do, you can save your progress on any Free On Demand titles you don’t finish.
Since Redbox offers several different services, there are several different alternatives: other FASTs, other streaming rental/purchase stores, and other hybrids like Redbox. The vast majority of streaming services are subscription-based, but not all.
Prices are roughly comparable across all platforms, since the profit margin is so small. So you should choose a service based on its ease of use and features, since that’s where your digital video library will be living.
Other Online Rental/Purchase Sources
- Google Play Store
- Amazon Prime Video (buying/renting does not require a subscription)
- iTunes Store (Apple)
Other Hybrid Rental/Purchase/Ad-Supported Free Sites
- IMDb TV
- Shout! Factory TV
Note: Vudu is the place to go if you want the top-shelf resolution. It has the biggest collection of 4K UHD and Dolby Atmos titles around.
Other FAST (Free Ad-supported Streaming Television)
- Crackle: FAST with original series.
- Crunchyroll: Anime only, has a free tier with a decent selection.
- CW Seed: Shows, and, more often, spin-offs from The CW.
- PBS Video: Great source of documentaries.
- Peacock: Alone among all the “network” streaming services, has a free tier with over 2,000 movies plus lots of NBCUniversal shows.
- Plex: Primarily a service to organize your streaming media, Plex has a modest free streaming library as well.
- PlutoTV: One of the oldest FASTs and supported by Paramount Global’s enormous number of brands and related content.
- RetroCrush: Another anime service.
- The Roku Channel: You don’t need Roku to access, but you do need to be aware they will try at every turn to upsell you a premium service.
- Tubi TV: One of the better movie collections.
- XUMO: Like PlutoTV, but owned by Comcast instead of Paramount.
If you don’t care about 4K resolution, then Redbox is great for hosting your virtual movie library. Especially if you already use the kiosks for your DVD rentals, it makes sense to use Redbox and collect as many of its VIP Perks as possible.
And there’s no reason not to at least check out Redbox’s free offerings, because, well, it’s free. But you’ll almost certainly get a better free TV experience on PlutoTV, Tubi TV, or Peacock.
But keep checking back; Redbox’s streaming service(s) are relatively new, and will likely expand.
Is Redbox still a thing?
Redbox is very much still a thing! In 2020, it had $546 million in total revenue, so lots of folks out there are still renting good ol’ fashioned DVDs. Redbox insists that physical rentals will be around for a while. But its future hinges on converting at least some of those DVD renters into streaming renters. But that also means those distinctive red kiosks around heavily-frequented retail areas won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
Is Redbox a good deal?
Broadly, Redbox’s prices are in line with other online video sellers like Amazon. They have occasional sales and “Flash Deals” that can save you a few dollars. If you are an extremely frequent renter, Redbox’s loyalty program, “Perks,” could save you a lot of money over the long run. It works basically like Starbucks points: spending money at Redbox earns you Perks points, which you can then redeem for free rentals.
What happened to Redbox Instant?
Redbox Instant was Redbox’s first attempt at a streaming video service. Redbox partnered with Verizon in 2013 to offer an $8/mo unlimited on-demand subscription service, plus four-disc rentals from kiosks. Some titles would only be available for rental or purchase, similar to Amazon Prime Video. By 2014, Redbox’s parent company, dissatisfied with the number of people subscribing, pulled the plug on the whole thing, not even two years after launch.