CANFLIX notes 2005
Updated Feb 1/2005
I had some difficulties with the Canflix DVD rental service in 2005, mainly with their claim of stocking 20,000 titles. In March 2006 they made some major changes to the reporting of inventory availability on their website, and I talked with one of the owners ("Nav") to clear things up. I have no current issues with the Canflix, but I've left this here for historical purposes.
Summary: I first heard of and contacted Canflix in March 2005, and did a trial in April. It seemed fairly obvious that the 20,000 title inventory was not there. I was told at the time that much of their stock had come from video store acquisitions, and there were some problems in matching up the discs and the computer records, but that 20,000 was still the target number. This continued through July and a second senior Canflix representative (Ireney Berezniak, their programmer).
As I understand from my March 2006 chat with Nav, between the stock from the video stores and various other arrangements which in the end didn't work out, they had an expectation of eventually being able to provide 20,000 titles, and I'm willing to believe they may have thought so at the time. I will say that during my July 2005 email exchange with Ireney I made the point that 20,000 titles seemed far beyond what might be expected from video store inventories. I'm not sure what other sources they were working on, but certainly no mention was made of them at the time, they were unwilling to provide any indication of what was available. Eventually availability indicators were added to the site, and these confirmed that the number of available titles was only a fraction of the 20,000 mark (and the 15,000+ unavailable titles unhelpfully displayed an incorrect "On Order" indicator).
At some point last fall Canflix apparently made some changes, and certainly the number of available titles started to increase around that time (although it was still under 9000 in March 2006). In most other respects people seemed to report that they provided a decent service, which makes me glad I've been able to clear up the inventory issue going forward.
[Note that this trial was quite some time ago, during Canflix's initial startup phase; I've left these notes intact for historical purposes with some additional comments]. I did a trial with Canflix from April 15-28, 2005. The first batch of rentals were pretty much as expected. Discs shipped from Blairmore, Alberta when stated, in customer-printed Canflix envelopes and return mailers (both are square), with postage stamps (most Canflix shipments are now from Calgary). I got both discs of 2-disc sets ("Ray" and a "Harry Potter") as a single rental, which is a good feature (Canflix no longer ships bonus discs together with a rental]. On the down side, on of my rentals was wrong - they sent me the old original version of "Amadeus" instead of the 2-disc Director's cut which I had in my list. I also got no emails on discs shipped/received, or on cancellation (and my signup email had a return address from their "hindiflix.ca" operation. Also, the last three rentals of my trial were all problematic and I wound up sending them back unwatched; "Amadeus" was not the promised director's cut edition, and for both "Finding Neverland" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" they sent me pan-and-scan ("Full-Frame") versions.
More importantly, I have serious questions about their actual inventory. They claim to stock 20,000 titles in their FAQ, and in emails to me. But I could find almost nothing available. Their queue ("FlixList") shows Availability status codes of "Available", "Available Soon" (which seems to mean all copies are rented) and "On Order" (which really seems to mean "we don't have it", and in most cases is not actually on order). I ran the contents of my testing database through the queue, and all of the 179 Criterion titles they claim to have are "On Order". I ran another 375 titles, and they only had 29. I repeated this with 150 of the "On Order" the day before my trial ended, and none had changed status by then. I was forced to queue up a number of new release titles to have anything available to ship during my trial. I reran a check towards the end of May, and while more backlist titles were present, Canflix still didn't come close to any of the other companies, a far cry from their claim of "stocking" 20,000 titles.
In late July 2005 Canflix added availability indicators to the movie detail pages, which allowed me to check all items. My conclusion is that they had around 2500 titles at that time, one of the smallest inventories of all the Canadian companies, and a far cry from their advertised 20,000. Even after months of presumably adding titles and responding to customer requests, they had just reached 5,000 in November (around 6500 by January 2006). Below are some of my original conclusions before I was able to confirm this, and various email conversations with Canflix. As you can see, they repeatedly made claims that seem of dubious veracity.
I've had two or three emails from Canflix dating back to early March, and another set in July. In all cases the claim is that they do have this great large selection of discs, and any impression to the contrary is due to the fact that they are having repeated trouble getting their inventory properly loaded into their computer systems. Even before they stopped responding this had the flavour of "the dog ate my homework". I'd find it much more likely that they were setting up some sort of "virtual inventory" operation, with most titles not actually stocked, and then ordered as needed. However, as you'll see in the email notes below, they have denied this a couple times. So one is left to believe they are sitting on a giant pile of discs (20,000 titles would easily be the second best selection in Canada) just waiting to get them into their computer. This strains my credulity somewhat. They also refuse to provide an indication of how many titles are actually available currently.
Canflix said their inventory was obtained from "the acquisition of a few smaller video outlets". Presumably one of these must have had a wholesale catalog loaded into its records, as there were obvious signs of this early on in the Canflix listings. It is extremely hard to believe that video store stock could provide such a range of titles - 3-5000 unique titles would seem closer to possible, given the inventory size of even the smaller online companies. They would also have had to make a very large purchase of new stock, which they haven't mentioned. Finally, I just have trouble with the notion that a startup in the Rockies would begin with a ZIP-level selection anyway. I'd love to be proved wrong, but I'd have to see it to believe it.
Selected email responses from Nav Dhunay of Canflix
March 13, 2005 - Your site seems to claim 17,000 titles
We got our movies from the acquisition of a few smaller video outlets. When we first decided to launch Canflix.com we loaded the inventory based on the computer records of the stores. What we found out was that the inventory records were not accurate - not even close. We had already migrated the inventory, so we decided to clean it up, rather that re-load from scratch. What we found was that the cleanup was more painful than simply re-loading the inventory from scratch. However we are now very close to having the inventory cleansed. We believe that once cleaned up our inventory will be around the 20,000 mark (most likely 19,000).
Even setting aside the ones marked "Preview, Coming Soon", I'm assuming your plan is to have only a portion in initial inventory, and then order other titles as they are added to customer rental queues?
No. We will have inventory immediately available. 20,000 titles in stock. We are going to focus on new releases. Our goal is to have more new releases available than our competitors - since that is what most people request.
I will let you know. Probably first week in April.
April 21, 2005 - We are definitely not going with virtual inventory. We had a problem with our inventory system and we needed to pull out all of the inventory to reload it correctly. Within 1-2 weeks we will be finished loading the inventory and it will be available online. I would love for you to have you take a look at the inventory once we have it loaded and compare it to your chart. I did a quick scan of your chart and believe that we will have a very large majority of them available for immediate shipping.
The process of cleanup is taking much longer than I would like, but I'd rather do it right than fast.
May 2, 2005 - David, I did not recieve your previous email for some reason or another. I would have definitely replied had I recevied it. I am out of town right now and will reply back to you within 1-2 days - I promise.
I had no reply from Nav, but in July 2005 I did get in touch with another person associated with Canflix and exchanged a couple of emails.
Currently, our strategy is to satisfy our customers first and foremost. We load and stock new releases immediately, considering new releases generate a significant majority of activity on our site; our customers rarely wait for a new release. Second, we load the titles most requested by our customers by monitoring their flixlists and e-mail-based requests. Finally, we continue to tread through the store inventories and take care of the more "popular" titles first. We aim ensure that our customers are serviced and satisfied always.
We are what we are. We do not intend to mislead anyone ... this would be contradictory to our philosophy. Judging by the fact that a significant majority of customers stay with Canflix beyond the 2 week trial we offer, we believe that we are meeting customer demand admirably and that our customers do not feel cheated or mislead. Our customers are given the opportunity to try our service as is with no cost to them and decide for themselves whether it meets their needs and requirements. We listen and respond to suggestions, comments and criticisms directed to us. We do not hide the fact that we don't have a title in stock ... our status system clearly indicates this, and does not hold anyone waiting indefinitely for a title that is not available (unlike most services I tried personally). While the title may indeed reside in the back of the warehouse, it is not known to the web engine and so it is considered "on order".
We do not hide the fact that we don't have a title in stock ... our status system clearly indicates this...
Only for members, and only for titles in the FlixList. Given the problematic state of your inventory, would you consider putting the "Available/On Order" status onto the detail page for each movie?
While the title may indeed reside in the back of the warehouse, it is not known to the web engine and so it is considered "on order".
Presumably you have some idea of how large this pile of un-catalogued discs is, certainly whether it is closer to, say, 3,000 than 15,000? Not to mention an estimate of the number of discs (not titles) you actually took possession of in your acquistions? And your system can certainly provide this number for me - what is the current total of "Available/Available Soon" discs. I would be extremely interested in this number, since it represents what is actually rentable currently.
> The claim of 20,000 is based on data currently available to us. It is certainly probable that as we fill the gaps, remove duplicates, etc., the actual count will decrease. We initially determined the inventory available to us at 25,000+ and since then re-adjusted this number to current level based on the progress of the aforementioned cleanse. Until the moment we complete the consolidation, we will advertise the number currently known to us, and continue with the approach I outlined in my previous response.
Again, you can't realistically expect that stock acquired from video stores is ever going to yield anything close to your range of 20,000 titles once you have processed everything. If you do, I'd love to hear more about the sources of your stock. I remember reading recently that the average Rogersstore has maybe 4000 titles. Video Spot in Edmonton "boasts one of Edmonton's largest collection of DVDs for rent, with over 3200 titles." Perhaps I'm missing something, but given the likely overlaps I don't see how buying a few store inventories would get to even 10,000, if not less.
Out of curiosity, what happens with those "On Order" titles in a person's list? Does it trigger someone scurrying around the slush pile trying to get them in the system? If it turns out that you actually don't have a large number of the "On Order" titles, are you actually willing and able to go out and purchase copies, or will they just be deleted from the system?
The only reason I got anything at all on my trial was that I gave up on anything I was actually interested in and queued up some new releases and common titles. If you'd like a real world example, of my last 100 rentals (mainly from ZIP, but a few from RentaDVD and Cinemail), Canflix actually had only 11 that weren't "On Order". I could generate a list if you are interested.
...However, answers to certain specific questions that you are asking is the kind of confidential competitive information that I am not at liberty to discuss. We strive to surpass our competition, therefore freely offering such information would not be considered to be in good business sense.
Forgive my bluntness, but this is a crock. You publicly claim to "stock" 20,000 titles, but the number that are actually available to members now is a competitive secret? This would be unpalatable even to customers of a "virtual inventory" operation, but utterly ridiculous in light of your claims (which I don't believe) that you actually have the 20,000 titles but just haven't been able to inventory them.
From my experience with the DVD rental landscape, Canflix is advertising an improbable selection, in an improbable location (Blairmore), from improbable sources (video store inventory), and actual experience to the contrary is met with improbable stories. Now, if you were a consumer, would you be likely to believe this either?
Yes, the available/available soon information will deployed in not too distant future...We are debating whether to disclose this information on the results page and the detail page, or just the detail page...Rest assured that is it coming in one form or another.
If you display the status in either place to non-members you will be effectively disclosing your inventory situation to anyone willing to make the effort to compile it, which either makes your reluctance puzzling, or suggests this feature won't be appearing anytime soon.
Yes, the availability status will be released soon. Yes, this will disclose the state of our inventory to anyone willing to make the effort to compile it. You will be able to guess our inventory numbers as you have done thus far with other services.
I can certainly appreciate the service you are providing consumers, in fact, I admire the fact that you selflessly donate your free time to the cause.
I'm not sure if this was meant sarcastically or not, but in any case I'm not Ralph Nader. Purely as an individual consumer I really dislike being subjected to false marketing, and I would think that advertising 20,000 titles but only having a small fraction actually available certainly qualifies.
David, I am terminating any further communication with you, I'm sorry. I have been civil and respectful towards you and I would have expected the same in return. Unfortunately, your tone of communication is growing increasingly hostile and disrespectful.
I'm sorry you feel that way. I've updated my Canflix notes.
I've started a new thread with this Canflix discussion at the onlinedvdrentalguide.ca forums:
These forums are visited by a number of members of various DVD rental companies (and management from ZIP and Cinemaflow have stopped by on occasion). The ratings that Morgan (the site owner) calculates include my inventory estimates as one component. I'd encourage you or Nav to come by and add the Canflix point of view - I'm sure you'll find the feedback interesting.