- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

DALLAS (AP) — Blockbuster Inc. began a new service yesterday that allows customers renting DVDs online to return them to neighborhood stores and receive a free in-store rental.

It’s one of several new consumer perks that Blockbuster Chief Executive Officer John Antioco hopes will strengthen ties between the company’s online and bricks-and-mortar businesses.

“This gives the customers the best of both worlds: the convenience of ordering online and the immediate gratification of getting the movie right there, right now,” Mr. Antioco said.

Additionally, the program should give Blockbuster a better chance to build its online customer base to 2 million by year’s end. It had 1.5 million at the end of September.

The new program is called Blockbuster TotalAccess, and is the Dallas-based company’s latest development in competing with online rental sites such as Netflix Inc.

Blockbuster said it will automatically upgrade all current and new online rental subscribers for no extra cost.

Mr. Antioco said most online customers pay $17.99 per month to rent up to three DVDs at a time.

Under the old plan, customers return the DVDs in a postage-paid envelope, then receive another selection already marked on an online wish list.

New features include: Getting a free rental for every online movie returned to the stores, although online renters can still return movies through the mail; a faster shipping cycle, and allowing customers to register for online subscriptions at stores.

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