Movies on a budget

Will brick-and-mortar movie rental stores soon be a thing of the past? If the recent demise of chains like Blockbuster Video and Movie Gallery is any indication, more consumers are thinking outside the box stores to find their favourite movies and TV shows. The launch of new services in Canada means more choice and competition in the market — but will you see savings?

Admittedly, our U.S. neighbours have more options when it comes to media, but here’s a look at what’s available here in Canada — and what it might cost you.

Independent movie rental stores

Have you checked out your area’s independent movie rental store yet? You won’t find nationwide promotions or a huge selection, but many places have their own loyalty programs, pricing and specials — like “half price Wednesdays”.

Cost: prices vary by stores and whether the movie is a new release or older flick. Some sources we checked charge up to $6.00/night for a new release or for an older movie for five nights. If you rent lots of movies, you can often take advantage of discounts and freebies. Look for the store’s website or call for more information.

Rental kiosks

Think of them as vending machines for movies and games. Already a hit in the U.S., kiosks like Moviecube and Spotbox (the Canadian version of Redbox) are popping in Canada. (You may have already seen them at fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and grocery stores.) The boxes can hold hundreds of DVDs and often focus on recent releases. Just like a trusty vending machine, you pay and make your selection. When you’re done, you return the item to the drop box.

Cost: prices are usually $2.00 per rental, though some places can go as low as $1.00. The U.S. has some perks we may not see here like online reservations.

On Demand

If you subscribe to digital cable or satellite TV, you don’t need the movie channels to enjoy the occasional commercial-free click. On Demand services offer a pay per use “rentals” through your service or online. If you haven’t already tried it on your TV, you go to the preview channel to order your selection — a PIN number may be required — and the rental fee simply shows up on your next bill.

When you rent a film, you don’t have to watch it right away: you have access to it for 48 hours and you can pause and rewind as many times as you like. Unlike movie rental stores or kiosks, the movies are available all the time, and you don’t have to leave your home.

Cost: again, it depends on the movie and your provider. There’s a premium for new releases, and you’ll pay extra for high definition too. For instance, new releases from Rogers On Demand run $5.99 for regular video and $7.99 for HD and classic titles are $3.99. For full details, contact your service provider or visit its website.

What about TV shows? While you usually can’t rent past seasons, you can watch recent episodes for free — if you don’t mind the commercials.



Apple’s popular digital media service isn’t just for purchases — you can rent movies too, and even check out online reviews before you pay. Don’t worry, you aren’t limited to watching movies on your computer or mobile device. With multimedia hook ups like AppleTV you can stream to a bigger screen.

When you rent a movie, it downloads right away but you have up to 30 days to start watching it. However, once you hit play you’ll have access for 48 hours before you’re cut off.

Cost: New releases can run up to $5.99, but there’s a wide selection of older movies for $4.99 and some bargains for a dollar. (Taxes are included.)  For more information, visit the iTunes store and look under the “movies” tab.

YouTube Movies

Many of us turn to for short clips, but now you can find full-length features as well — for a price. You can browse without having to sign, but you’ll need a Google or YouTube account to access these offerings. Like iTunes, you have a 30 day period to activate your rental, then 48 hours to enjoy it. You can watch the flicks on your Android-enabled tablet, or use GoogleTV to watch it on your TV screen via your internet connection.

Cost: the newest flicks run $4.99 and older movies are $3.99. There are even some free selections as well.  For more information, visit

YouTube isn’t the only one in this space. If you’re looking for an alternative, try


Why pay for one movie at a time when you can have unlimited access for one low fee? Experts say other services will have a hard time competing with Netflix. The company dropped its mail order service when it came to Canada, but its monthly subscription offers a bargain for people who can’t get enough movies and TV episodes. Some people have even ditched their cable in favour of Netflix.

The service operates over the internet, so to enjoy it on your TV you’ll need a set that has internet access, a game system (like a Wii or PlayStation) or a Blu Ray player equipped with wireless internet access.

Cost: $7.99/month for unlimited movies and TV episodes. (You won’t need to sign a contract, and you can cancel any time). For more information, visit

This company also offers kiosks and online streaming, but it’s got an additional perk: a mail order service. Here’s how it works: for a monthly subscription fee, you maintain a list of movies you want to see and the company will mail them to your home. Keep them as long as you like, then ship them back using your pre-paid envelop. Once the company receives the DVD, it sends you the next one on your list. Depending on which plan you select, you can have up to eight DVDs out at a time.

Cost: kiosk rentals run $1.00 each and the mail service has packages ranging from $10.95 to $49.95/month. (Online streaming isn’t available yet, but we’ll keep you updated.) Visit for full details.

Like the “in the mail” concept? Other providers include Rogers Video Direct (starting at $10.95/month), (starting at $5.98/month), ($19.99/month), (starting at $9.98/month) and (starting at $9.98/month).  The premise is the same, but pricing depends on how many movies you want per month and how many you want to have out at one time. For instance, if you pay for only one at a time, you’ll be without a movie while the next one is in the mail.

For a comparison of services, visit the

Your library

We may not think to hit our local libraries for movies and TV shows, but some places have quite a collection. Instead of paying a rental fee, you simply use your library card to check out a title. Like movie rentals, your time may be limited to a couple of days.  Some libraries even offer videos — namely documentaries — through their digital collections or “e-branch”.  Unfortunately, the selection can be limited and you may not find those sought after titles and new releases.

Cost: free, but expect late fees if you go past the due date. You may also have to wait your turn for popular titles, but you can go online to your library’s website and reserve titles — then receive a notification when they’re ready.

Borrowing sound good to you? Here’s another tip from reader Karinkits: check out your friends’ and family’s collections. Many people are eager to share movies and TV shows they love, especially if you’re willing to swap.

Before you sign up

We have lots of options, but some potential pitfalls too. Make sure you:

Read agreements carefully. What taxes and fees can you expect? What happens if something is lost, damaged or stolen? Can you cancel without penalty? Will your information be kept private?

Try the free trial. Many services offer free trials lasting 14-30 days. Again, it’s important to know the details as you’ll likely be asked to give payment information and will be charged if you don’t cancel by a certain date.

Consider the selection. Another reason to “try before you buy”: many of these services are new and don’t have the variety of movies and TV episodes you’re looking for. Remember, content has to be licensed for Canada, and we’ve got a smaller audience than the U.S. Content is subject to licensing agreements, so it might be “here today, gone tomorrow”.

Mind your internet usage. Is your internet package up for streaming video? Unless you have unlimited access, you’ll want to keep on eye on your use because online videos can eat into the about of data you can download each month. Overage charges can add up if you’re not careful.

So are these services a good idea? It all depends on your budget and your preferences. The key is to think about your needs and wants and find a good fit.

Photo © Yanik Chauvin