Don't Cross the Streamers
July 11, 2012 3:19 PM   Subscribe

Netflix's lost year: The inside story of the price-hike train wreck.
Leading up to the first anniversary of the Netflix meltdown, CNET interviewed former and current Netflix employees to find out how a series of missteps turned into a lost year, and whether it has rebounded from those self-inflicted wounds.
posted by kirkaracha (115 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know if it's the usual track for businesses and I'm sure I'm oversimplifying, but I seem to see this a lot over and over again:

1. Let's start a business in sector Y. We will differentiate ourselves by doing X!
2. Wow, things are going really great! People seem to really respond to X. Let's expand!
3. We're wildly profitable, but we're not expanding at the rate we used to or posting increasing quarterly profits anymore. Isn't there some way we could cut some costs? I know: we could get rid of X!
4. I don't understand why our business is failing.
posted by ODiV at 3:35 PM on July 11, 2012 [90 favorites]


What I never understood is how someone gets from "DVD are dinosaurs, streaming is the wave of the future. If we don't adapt we die" to "60% price hike!"
posted by muddgirl at 3:36 PM on July 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


The central problem, well outlined briefly in the article, is that DVD rental eventually had to go once DVDs stopped being rented. and the problem is that once those rentals start dwindling you're left with a company that simply isn't making the same money any more. So you have to rely more on streaming, but to make up that loss streaming by itself has to make more money. So how do you do that? You get more subscribers and/or you charge more.

So what does netflix do about that? well, getting more subscribers is tough when your library is wearing thin and people aren't able to watch the movies they want. And you can't justify a price hike well under those conditions, either. To top it off, they lost Starz, and a pretty massive chunk of quality material with it. Studios hate netflix and want that streaming money for themselves, or to provide the content at a much higher fee. So where's that money going to come from? well, a price hike under these circumstances is almost mandatory.

So the problem is that they had to face that. But they had time to do that. And that seems to be the central issue: Hastings didn't want to take the time to figure it out and do it the right way. He just went "poof! DVDs and Streaming are split! 60% price hike! gimme da money!"
posted by shmegegge at 3:49 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


What I never understood is how someone gets from "DVD are dinosaurs, streaming is the wave of the future. If we don't adapt we die" to "60% price hike!"

Short answer: Because CBS and Warner want $1 billion for Gossip Girl.
posted by Talez at 3:50 PM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I prefer to think that any internet business that dances with the devil (i.e. content industry) is eventually doomed. Netflix was a good hack and end-around the studios when they were shipping DVDs, but now that they pay streaming fees they may as well be reselling oil from Saudi princes.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:50 PM on July 11, 2012 [18 favorites]


ODiV has neatly encapsulated nearly every failing business I've worked at, and I've worked at a lot of them.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:50 PM on July 11, 2012


The attempt at splitting the services into two companies and the actual splitting of services online was the worst part about it all. I could understand the price hike, though they probably should have tried incremental increases. I find it incredibly irritating when I search for a movie and they don't have it on streaming that it flat out doesn't show up because I don't subscribe to the DVD's. What's the point of hiding it from me? If its there it might persuade me to subscribe to the DVD service. To me it felt like massive changes done by people that just don't understand what was making it so popular.
posted by Phantomx at 3:51 PM on July 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


DVDs clearly are on the way out - I recently realized that most of the people I know don't even have DVD players hooked up to their TVs. I don't blame them for wanting to spin off the DVD business, even though the effort was clearly very poorly thought out.
posted by The Lamplighter at 3:51 PM on July 11, 2012


.




(for Qwikster)
posted by perhapses at 3:54 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's hard to tell what Netflix has been doing for the past two or so years. The streaming interface isn't any good, the recommendations are boring (do 90% of Netflix subscribers just watch The Office and Arrested Development over and over again?), and the picture quality is usually much worse than competitors like iTunes and Vudu.
posted by The Lamplighter at 3:55 PM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


The best part of the netflix debacle was finding out the twitter account for "qwikster" belonged to some 16 year old stoner.
posted by hellojed at 3:56 PM on July 11, 2012 [17 favorites]


The streaming selection is really hit and miss, with a lot more miss than hit. They mishandled the whole Qwikster debacle, and since then seem to just be in a holding pattern; I haven't seen much improvement or decline in the movie selection, just sort of same old same old.
posted by Forktine at 3:59 PM on July 11, 2012


This article is terrific, a detailed inside view of what a failure of corporate leadership looks like. Execs make mistakes all the time but seldom do we see such a fundamental fiasco. Plenty of blame to go around, and it's great to read some journalism to get at the details of what happened. I particularly like the details behind Hasting's awkward launch of Qwikster. "Friedland and others that day tried to talk Hastings out of announcing a major change at the company this way... a professional video crew was hired without Hastings' knowledge and he wasn't happy".

There's a larger story here which is how Netflix completely owned the Internet video rental market and then lost it. It'll make a great business case study some day. I think a lot of it is failing to secure the streaming deals they needed against Amazon and Apple's more studio-friendly model.

Just today I thought it'd be fun to watch a Batman movie. The results of a search for Batman are laughably bad. They don't have any of the Batman movies, so they suggest I watch "Viva La Bam" or "Angel and the Badman". Soundex as movie recommendation engine.
posted by Nelson at 4:00 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


It reminds me of the New Yorker cartoon in which an executive points to a downward chart while telling the other furrow-browed executives: "Our precipitous decline in sales appears to coincide with our decision to fire all our salespeople."
posted by scody at 4:01 PM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you like BBC dramas and shows about hoarding, Netflix is still awesome.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:01 PM on July 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


Ah, the Netflix red mailer. It's how I get my TV when I'm far enough behind on a show that the episodes I want to see are actually out on disc.
posted by jepler at 4:03 PM on July 11, 2012


So we dropped the DVD service when they did the split but then all the good movies went away so there's nothing really to watch and we might just drop it all together.
posted by octothorpe at 4:04 PM on July 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


(but I gotta admit, back when I first subscribed it was so great to go through decades of shows that I'd missed, watching a dozen episodes in a weekend...)
posted by jepler at 4:04 PM on July 11, 2012


This discussion just motivated me to cancel my subscription. And wow, the website doesn't even try to retain me as a customer anymore. I remember when I cancelled a few years back I got hit up with some last chance offer for cheaper, off-the-menu options. This time nothing, just a "thanks and see ya".
posted by Nelson at 4:09 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


honestly, I don't think Netflix is gonna make it. And I'm not sure it should. Not because there's a problem with it as an idea or with them as a company or as people. But because ultimately everything is going to be streaming. When that happens there won't be One Service that has everything. But nobody's going to pay $10/month or whatever to 10 different services to get all the content. Things are going to be split into studios and production companies who want to cut out the middleman and keep the revenue for themselves, as they rightly should. Some of the big ones (HBO, CBS, Paramount, etc...) who have existing stables and the funds to produce high value material regularly will be able to charge monthly fees for access to only their stuff. The price range for that will be interesting to see fluctuate. But a lot of it will be a la carte for your more indie/small scale providers, or ad-based. (the ad revenue thing is a whole 'nother can of worms, and CPMs for internet video are pitifully outdated at the moment, but that's for another time) Some of them may partner into a very lucrative joint venture, hulu-style. But if you can't get everything you want from one place, you're going to start figuring out where you want to spend your money based on how much of What You Want is where. And nobody is going to give their content to someone who's just a streaming middle-man without some serious incentive. Netflix could, theoretically, leverage their existing user base and reputation to provide that incentive, but it sure as shit hasn't worked to get them all the content they need so far.

And that's what it boils down to. I pay $8 a month to netflix, happily, but it's for the privilege and convenience of having their content readily available all the time, at the additional cost of not having what they don't provide. But I'm still going to go see that stuff. And I've already started asking myself why I'm paying a monthly fee for a service I'm rapidly exhausting (my queue is greatly diminished and will have nothing left on it soon. not much is showing up to refill it with) when I'm STILL going to xbox live marketplace or itunes for one-time rental fees for movies I want to see. I already canceled my hulu plus because there are only 3 shows on there I watch and they're all on hiatus between seasons.
posted by shmegegge at 4:10 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just today I thought it'd be fun to watch a Batman movie. The results of a search for Batman are laughably bad. They don't have any of the Batman movies, so they suggest I watch "Viva La Bam" or "Angel and the Badman". Soundex as movie recommendation engine.

What, exactly, is Netflix supposed to do about the fact that the studios that own the rights to all the Batman movies won't make those movies available to them in streaming format? If you subscribe for DVDs then you can get all those movies in the mail. If you want to get the movies via Watch Instantly your beef is with the rights holders, not Netflix.

If you like BBC dramas and shows about hoarding, Netflix is still awesome

Netflix is awesome if you have a DVD player or if your tastes run to anything other than stuff the studios think they can still make money off by selling DVDs or what have you. British movies from the 1930s, 40s and 50s are a particular strength, for example. There's also a heap of fabulous less-than-famous Film Noir. Eventually they'll cease to provide DVDs, of course, and the studios will, I think, go to a pay-per-view model for streamed films (a la Amazon). So Netflix will probably never end up being the one-stop-shop for every movie ever made that we hoped it would be--but almost none of that is Netflix's fault. Sure, they botched the PR around their moves badly, but the moves themselves pretty much had to be made.
posted by yoink at 4:12 PM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


So we dropped the DVD service when they did the split but then all the good movies went away so there's nothing really to watch and we might just drop it all together.

That's what I did, and I did end up dropping it altogether. Few of the movies in my queue were blockbuster new releases, and that's what they seemed to offer streaming, so it wasn't worth it to keep it.

I miss movies though and have just in the past week or to started thinking it's time to cobble together a new non-netflix setup for movie-watching. Hulu plus maybe? Not sure yet.
posted by headnsouth at 4:13 PM on July 11, 2012


The only way I watch movies or TV at all is via Netflix streaming, even though I have Dish (their user experience is apocalyptically bad). The one time I tried Amazon Unbox it was an unmitigated disaster that ended with their tech support conceding defeat and sending me my money back, and the less said about Hulu the better.

So, point being, I never really understood the kerfluffle about DVDs. Streaming = win, and thus far Netflix is the only streaming that's actually worked for me. It helps that I'm willing to settle for old episodes of Poirot, I guess.

On the other hand, if this craptacular GoogleTV box ever dies (yay freebies at IO!) I'm probably going to bail out of TV entirely.
posted by aramaic at 4:13 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


So we dropped the DVD service when they did the split but then all the good movies went away so there's nothing really to watch and we might just drop it all together.

We did the same thing and a while ago I realized that we hadn't watched anything on streaming for months. But then right when I was about to propose that we drop it completely my girlfriend started watching Breaking Bad or something. So, you've got a temporary reprieve, Netflix.

A side effect to the end of the red envelopes for me is that I have found that I hardly watch movies any more. I'm still undecided on if that is good or bad.
posted by ghharr at 4:15 PM on July 11, 2012


I did the math recent and figured out that with my viewing habits I'm better off renting the occasional movie on Amazon through my PS3 than subscribing to Netflix's disc service. (Amazon movies are usually $3 for HD and disc service was $8/month when I left).
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:21 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It reminds me of the New Yorker cartoon in which an executive points to a downward chart while telling the other furrow-browed executives: "Our precipitous decline in sales appears to coincide with our decision to fire all our salespeople."

So, true story.

As I mentioned above, I've worked at a lot of failing businesses. At one of them they got the usual swashbuckling new exec in who would save the company. This followed on the heels of their decision to neglect their best-selling product that made them all their money in favor of the new product which was riskier and probably wasn't even going to be able to be released, but all the execs thought it was cool, and it, to no one's surprise below the management level, never made it out. And all the customers left the cash cow product during that neglectful period.

So the savior comes in and has a brilliant idea. The real problem, he finds, is all these staff that are taking up their bottom line and costing them money. He does a round of layoffs. More specifically, he lays off everyone who actually does anything on the products in question. Everyone below management level is quite literally gone. There's no one to Do The Things or Make The Things. There's no one left to even update the websites for those products. The company is now the B Ark from Hitchhiker's Guide.

To no one's surprise, inside of a few months, all the remaining customers flee and they are forced to declare bankruptcy. Management is genuinely shocked and amazed, even still, that their brilliant plan didn't work out. And naturally, the savior who made these decisions is now VP level in a much larger company because he has experience.

So it goes.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:24 PM on July 11, 2012 [54 favorites]


I don't use streaming. My internet isn't reliable enough. This is true times 100 when you get out of urban areas.

I don't think DVDs are dead yet.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:32 PM on July 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


It was the Starz loss that doomed the streaming service for me. Overnight they went from having a halfway decent selection of movies to looking like an old neighborhood video store at 5 minutes before closing on a Friday night. It may not be their fault that they can't get rights to better content, but it's definitely their fault for having such a crappy interface and no ability to explore and interact with their content in any way that actually makes sense.

Recently I had my nephews visit, and after a week of them having control of the Xbox, the Netflix recommendation engine refuses to believe that I want to watch anything other than Beyblade and Danny Phantom cartoons.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:33 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm on the both DVD + streaming plan. Netflix is growing thinner and thinner selection-wise. So, there is no one place where you can get a wide selection of movies and shows?

Here I am, willing to pay - and have been paying, faithfully, for years. But I guess nobody wants my money in exchange for what I want.

I've never bittorrented movies. Can it be, that it's my only option at this point? Because if I have to do that, then the content industry loses the money I've been spending so far. I want to support content creation. What to do?
posted by VikingSword at 4:33 PM on July 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


DVD's are not going away for a long time. The reason is that nobody is going to be unwinding the morass of crap law underneath the licensing system for some time, and being physical objects DVD's are subject to the Doctrine of First Sale. Netflix can buy them from anyone and resell or rent them license or no license. That is not true and may never be true of streaming formats.

I think DVD's will also continue on despite the presence of Blu-Ray because of the latter's byzantine and fickle DRM; just ask all the folks who bought Avatar Blu-Rays and couldn't watch them because their players firmware wasn't up to it how great the format is.

I love the DVD service and never wanted streams, which are low quality, fickle, and expensive on my 3G wireless service (which is the only kind of reliable broadband I can get here). The price "hike" was a nice drop for me, and I went from 1 to 2 disks out at a time for a very modest increase and stopped getting annoyed by offers to stream that I would sometimes click on accidentally.

I just put Marat / Sade (recently discussed on the Blue) in my queue and they have it, not in a local warehouse but they went ahead and sent me my next disk while I wait for it from the more distant location. Because of the doctrine of first sale they can, and with a few weird exceptions seem to carry just about everything ever offered on DVD. It was the same when Dogtooth was discussed on the blue. When those movies are on the streaming menu I'll consider it a viable alternative.
posted by localroger at 4:38 PM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


When all this idiocy went down I was prepared to wager actual money that Qwikster would outlast Netflix.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:40 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've found Netflix streaming is great for BBC comics (<3 Father Ted and Black Books) and it's got enough good children's stuff to keep our kids happy after we dropped cable a few weeks ago. Between Netflix, Nowhere TV's collection of James Burke's "Connections", and Hulu's best bits from late night shows I haven't missed cable (ok, it might have been nice to watch the All Star Game).
posted by drezdn at 4:42 PM on July 11, 2012


As the parent of a four year old boy, can I tell you all how grateful I am that it was a suggestion from Netflix that engineered the transition from Thomas the Tank Engine to Mighty Machines? Mighty Machines is full of awesome, and I for one am eternally grateful that a certain cheeky blue engine has fallen by the wayside. So streaming doesn't totally suck, if you have the viewing habits of a four year old.
posted by ambrosia at 4:45 PM on July 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Few of the movies in my queue were blockbuster new releases, and that's what they seemed to offer streaming

Actually, the blockbuster new releases are precisely what the studios, by and large, won't let Netflix have. In fact, anything with a bankable living star tends to be unlikely to end up on Watch Instantly. But I can find you all kinds of terrific movies on WI if you're willing to move outside the mainstream even a little. There's a lot of great Bollywood films, for example. There's Bertrand Tavernier, there's Powell and Pressburger, there's Burn!, there's Caesar and Cleopatra (Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh), there's the Iranian film The Children of Heaven, there's The Long Good Friday, there's The Mill and the Cross, there's Gainsbourg, A Heroic Life etc etc etc. There is, in fact, a shitload of amazing stuff. But very little of it is stuff which a studio thinks that you might be willing to pay directly for in some fashion or other. Like, for example, Batman.
posted by yoink at 4:46 PM on July 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


looking like an old neighborhood video store at 5 minutes before closing on a Friday night.

I'm looking at my Instant Queue and thinking that you must have had the weirdest neighborhood video store back in the day.
posted by yoink at 4:49 PM on July 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


I was prepared to wager actual money that Qwikster would outlast Netflix.

Indeed, and some people within Netflix seem to have made the same wager -- only to have their bet pulled out from under them when the split was hastily stopped, leaving them high and dry. That was a very unfortunate aspect of this, the people who built the DVD business and were prepared to see it through are now mostly out because their positions were filled as they prepared to jump to the startup and then got tossed under the bus.
posted by localroger at 4:52 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I use Netflix streaming to get through Star Trek. All of it. If I could play Amazon Prime on my Wii, I'd probably not have Netflix anymore; I cancelled my DVD delivery when they made their idiotic announcement last year. I use the neighborhood Family Video to satisfy my occasional urge for random popular fairly recent films on DVD, and I use Amazon's DVD selection for my even more occasional need to acquire a film relatively quickly but somehow not wanting to wait till it shows up at Family Video again. I've discovered my threshold for buying something on DVD is around $11 for a movie I definitely liked and am sure I will want to watch many times, and about $5 for buying something I am pretty sure I will watch three or four times at least. I'm really reluctant to do Amazon streaming because it means I have to watch it on my PC (or buy yet another kind of player, no, thank you.)

It's weird, too, because there were sometimes whole months that would go by where I didn't remember to mail in my DVDs (or watch them in the first place) from Netflix. I think I was paying about $9 to rent each one I got. Until they made me really mad, I was most certainly a cash cow for them.
posted by SMPA at 4:53 PM on July 11, 2012


All the arguments that net-based delivery make sense, and it's true that SOMEDAY the DVD business will wither away, but the way Netflix handled this was like a giant FU to the many, many, many customers who utilized both delivery methods because sometimes I want to watch Topgear and sometimes I want to watch a movie that came out in the past two or three decades. Unified queue? Gone. Unified billing? Gone. Who needs grief like that in life? It didn't even make business sense to do your best to kill a hugely profitable part of your business because it's not the trendy new thing that doesn't actually work very well. Regardless of anything else, they managed to destroy a ton of good will and loyalty among their customer base.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:53 PM on July 11, 2012


This article is terrific, a detailed inside view of what a failure of corporate leadership looks like. Execs make mistakes all the time but seldom do we see such a fundamental fiasco.

We had a discussion here about Netflix's hiring policies...

All this "adequate performance is rewarded with a generous severance package" is quite evidently bullshit.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:55 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Things are going to be split into studios and production companies who want to cut out the middleman and keep the revenue for themselves, as they rightly should.

When it comes to mass media entertainment today, in no place should the word "rightly" come into it.
posted by JHarris at 4:56 PM on July 11, 2012


It's weird, too, because there were sometimes whole months that would go by where I didn't remember to mail in my DVDs (or watch them in the first place) from Netflix. I think I was paying about $9 to rent each one I got. Until they made me really mad, I was most certainly a cash cow for them.

Well yes--if you're basically not all that interested in watching movies then a subscriber based model wouldn't suit you very well.
posted by yoink at 5:01 PM on July 11, 2012


I'm quite happy with Netflix, streaming only. Fortunately in my area we have an independent ISP that doesn't have ridiculous bandwidth caps per month. A good deal of my friends are using it as well, as there is lots of gold content to view. My father recently signed up and is quite pleased as well. Looking forward to more Netflix only shows and hope the business doesn't tank.
posted by juiceCake at 5:04 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you think the Netflix streaming queue is bad, it's a cornucopia of film and television compared to what's available on Netflix Canada. And there's no Hulu or Amazon streaming to compete with them. And the Netflix doesn't offer DVD rentals here at all. And our local equivalent for DVD rentals in the mail doesn't have nearly the selection or stock levels. Oh, and for the first week of July, the RSS feed from Netflix Canada showing new releases was actually the U.S. feed instead, showing dozens of new titles that we're actually on Netflix Canada.

The only reason I'm subscribed is that there isn't any other choice other than a $100/mo. cable bill.
posted by thecjm at 5:07 PM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Netflix streaming is very hit-or-miss for us. Some TV shows and movies work great; others sputter and never load, even if we delete them and add them again. I don't think it's our internet connection because otherwise we'd have problems with everything, so I blame Netflix.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:15 PM on July 11, 2012


when content changes format, invariably some of it is lost and/or forgotten.

as an early adopter of compact disc i was dismayed back in the day that not all the material available on LP made the transition. the original Swann (remember those?) for CD was about a quarter of the size of the edition for LP. as time went on the depth of available content increased but with the impending end of physical discs for music, i am convinced that not everything will make the transition to streaming/download.

the same seems to be happening with TV and film. you cannot legally buy, rent or stream the original Cupid (1998-1999) as far as i know. i would love to show my kids the Burns and Allen comedies, but they aren't out there either. at least not a complete set.

this may also be happening with the printed word as well. noir author Cornell Woolrich appears to have five titles available as Kindle editions. i have 13 paperbacks on my shelf.

the promise of digital conversion seems to me to be access to a lot more stuff than is available that way. if something is digitized once it should be available for a while afterwards.

every physical format is subject to going out of print and being lost. the obscure and less mass market are the most vulnerable.
posted by BoZo555 at 5:25 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


New releases on WI: Thor, Senna, Drive, Melancholia, Rum Diaries... and that's not to mention all the TV series (Better Off Ted! Archer!). I dunno, I think they're doing pretty well. And if you've got a 7-8 year old, it's indispensable. I wouldn't do discs if I only had DVD and not Blu-ray.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:28 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


What, exactly, is Netflix supposed to do about the fact that the studios that own the rights to all the Batman movies won't make those movies available to them in streaming format?

Well either they're going to negotiate those streaming rights or they're going to keep losing customers.

But my real beef about the "Batman" search isn't that they don't have Batman; I get that. My complaint is that instead of saying "We don't have Batman, sorry" their horrible information retrieval algorithm suggests unrelated things like "Angel and the Badman" solely because it's a close alphabetic match. That's just embarrassing.
posted by Nelson at 5:39 PM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't use streaming. My internet isn't reliable enough. This is true times 100 when you get out of urban areas.

I don't think DVDs are dead yet.


I get my internet from a repeater on top of a grain silo across the field from me--streaming is most definitely not an option. We have satellite, but the vast majority of our movie watching is via DVD. I am the ideal Netflix version 2.0 (leaner, meaner, red envelope mailer) customer, and there are several million rural folks just like me.
posted by Chrischris at 5:40 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always thought the name Qwikster sounded like a pyramid scheme buisness that sold herbal remedies or knives...
posted by littlesq at 5:43 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I always thought the name Qwikster sounded like a pyramid scheme buisness that sold herbal remedies or knives...

With good reason: you're thinking of Quixstar/Amway.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:49 PM on July 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


Netflix works out pretty well for me as an alternative to cable or DVDs for television. If I were just looking at my movie usage, I'd probably do better to just rent (either online or in person) when I wanted to watch. But it's a pretty great way to go through back-seasons of shows.

I agree with pretty much everybody who's said they have a difficult problem to solve: the property economics of leasing pure digital content for streaming is very different from that of leasing plastic discs with content encoded. Netflix could have done a lot better at managing their brand while thinking about how to solve this problem, but I'm sympathetic to the underlying problem.

And it's a big one. I suppose it's *possible* that they might be able to eek out an existence as a competitive option for providing digital distribution for the studios while playing them against each other, but I think it's probable enough that such a service is within the reach of either existing content cartel arms or some other competitors that I wouldn't bet on it. In this scenario, it's pretty easy to envision them at some future date ending up in negotiations with content providers who have their own in-house streaming arm, or alternatives to Netflix.

Right now, my pet theory is that when this happens, Netflix will either be beaten by the studios, or it will join them in some way, either by being acquired, or as a competitor producing their own content, or as a kind of curator/marketer taking small-scale indie content. But all these options have their own challenges, so I don't know about betting on that either.
posted by weston at 5:50 PM on July 11, 2012


I think streaming is still ten years from reliably providing SDH (subtitles for deaf & hard of hearing) across most selections. Subtitles for movies that exist on DVDs don't always get ported to the streamed version, so now there's a big chunk of streaming movie libraries completely unwatchable for the deaf.

I hope Netflix keeps their DVD business around for a while — at least until the misers at the movie studios brighten up and un-Scrooge their budgets for subtitles.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 5:51 PM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Netflix isn't very good. It also isn't very expensive. Hey, what do you know, something appropriately priced!

Seriously, it's less than the price of streaming two recent releases in HD from something like Amazon or iTunes. I find there's just enough worthwhile content -- barely -- on Netflix to make it worth that price. Especially since I don't give much of a rat sass about 98% of new releases but like making obscure discoveries.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:53 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty much the ideal customer for Netflix streaming, as I am twenty years behind all of pop culture so find the selection to be perfectly adequate ('ooh, they have Star Trek! And How I Met Your Mother, and millions of movies I've heard of but never seen! This will meet all my viewing needs for a decade!').

But as mentioned above, I would kill a Netflix CEO to have them put their DVD only listings back in my search results. They could even see it as a sales opportunity! I'd be open to the idea of ordering a single disk for a few dollars on impulse instead of leaving the house to the (closing down sale) video store down the street, even if I won't sign up for a subscription plan. And hey, if I did order a few disks, I might get weaned on to the subscription idea.

I can only assume that the reason they don't do this is either
a) horrific incompetence
b) some kind of legal maneuvering to completely separate the streaming and DVD businesses, to provide them some kind of advantage with studio negotiation or similar.
Honestly, after how it all went down, it just seems (a) is more likely.
posted by jacalata at 6:08 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I appear to be one of the few remaining loyal fans of Netflix, both Streaming and DVD. I never considered dropping the DVD service because it fits just perfectly with my viewing style. I would be hard pressed to find the last 5 DVDs I just watched at Blockbuster (Bicentennial Man, Batman Beyond the Movie, Samurai Jack Disk 2,Return to Oz, Pretender the Movie). The mailer service consistently saves me from spending the month's fee on a single DVD plus shipping. We would have stayed with "Qwckster" or whatever, but only because it had no real replacement.

Netflix Streaming has no competitor for convenience. The majority of our household's monthly streaming is reruns: Bones, Star Trek: All of Them, My Little Pony, Doctor Who, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Archer, Angel. The entire household has the bad habit of using the TV for background noise while we do other things. The DVD equivalent of the selection that we "watch" in a month would cost us more than a year in subscription fees.

Occasionally, a late night or weekend will have me sitting on the couch giving the TV my full attention. Amazingly, Netflix Streaming ignited my deep adoration of foreign films: British comedy, Chinese war movies, Korean drama, Australian romance, Japanese action, French documentaries, Canadian cartoons, Thai epics... my preference profile has changed completely over the last 2 years. We even occasionally have Bad Movie Night and riff on some poor single star recommendation.

I find the "weird" and "boring" parts of Netflix to be the best parts, but that might be because I am both weird and boring.
posted by Vysharra at 6:14 PM on July 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


I was really interested in the dvd spin off. I have no use for streaming, my internet sucks, so I don't have netflix. I would've joined the dvd off-shoot. I guess I'm the person they were targeting, it sucks that everyone else ruined it for me.
posted by BurnChao at 6:42 PM on July 11, 2012


If you think the Netflix streaming queue is bad, it's a cornucopia of film and television compared to what's available on Netflix Canada.

I'm in Canada and I solved this issue by subscribing to Unblock Us. Great for British content from the BBC too.
posted by juiceCake at 6:45 PM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't think streaming is the future, and I think any company that tries to exclusively stream content is ultimately doomed. I think there are two reasons for this: streaming simultaneously underwhelms you with choices and overwhelms you with choices.

The first problem I think of as "The HBO problem" since Netflix is now trying to become a little HBO by producing in-house prestige content that it plans to mix in with studio movies and whatnot. If you've ever subscribed to a movie channel, there's a few movies you end up watching over and over again just because they are on and they are watchable; you just kind of end up with them whether or not you really like them. (Shawshank Redemption is (to me at least) a prime example of this.) This repetition of product is not a problem for a cable network because you aren't choosing that movie, you are choosing to stop by HBO and either stick around or leave. As a result, if you're feeling lazy, you watch the same thing a few times, but if you aren't, you don't.

The problem for Netflix is that Netflix isn't just "on". Every user has to choose what they want at any given time. If you've already seen Shawshank Redemption recently there's no reason to click on it again and to specifically select it, because while you might have settled with it and been fine, having to choose it means consciously deciding to watch something you've seen before and are indifferent about... Why would you do that? Meaning that their library of 10,000 items, while much bigger than HBO's, seems much smaller than HBO's, because while it has hundreds or thousands of items people might watch if they were on, it has a much, much smaller selection of things that people would choose to watch.

On the flipside, however, is what I think of as "the jam problem", which is a reference to a psychological study in the 70s where people who were offered three types of jam tried all three and then were likely to buy their favorite, but people who were offered 17 types of jam got overwhelmed and just skipped the jam altogether. The human mind has evolved to have a very narrow frame that defines what we will find stimulating and what demands more of our attention than we want to give to it. The thing about discs (or again, HBO) is that they represent a small number of choices: once you have the discs in your hand you have 3 choices as to what to watch. My streaming queue has over a hundred movies that are simultaneously available, and it's offering me a hundred more examples right below. Every time I almost select a movie I stop and say "is this what I really want to see?" and whatever movie I end up starting I feel like "oh, there's some movie I might have enjoyed more." People who design streaming channels should know about that jam experiment and design a better interface that isn't showing them a thousand goddamn movies when they just want to watch one - it's overwhelming.

The problem with streaming, then, is that it feels like drinking water from a firehose: intense without offering any nutrition at all. The vast majority of streamers I know regularly complain that there's nothing on it, and I think there's "nothing on it" because it runs afoul of both free will and basic human psychology, and those are hellacious hurdles to overcome.
posted by Kiablokirk at 6:45 PM on July 11, 2012 [35 favorites]


I was really interested in the dvd spin off. I have no use for streaming

Although they canceled the spinoff, they now offer DVD only service cheaper than their pre-kerfluffle combined service. Works quite well.
posted by localroger at 6:55 PM on July 11, 2012


Streaming to me is like cell service: Folks who live in dense urban areas think that endless bandwidth is easy to find. Out here in the sticks, it's not. For example, in my driveway, I get one bar of signal on my cell phone; I get none in the house. And I'm not that far from a major city. Streaming is the same thing; odds are good the residents of East Bumfuck, Rural State are never, ever going to have streaming bandwidth.
posted by maxwelton at 6:57 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


jacalata: Yes!

Removal of DVD-only listings only made sense in the context of the plan to jettison DVD watching entirely... which is where things went, unsuccessfully. But here's the thing: the studios don't have the same stranglehold on Netflix for DVDs as they do streaming. Netflix has deals in place to get DVDs cheaper than if they sent an army of temps to Kmarts across the country - but that's always an option. The studios have no such need to ever make things available to Netflix for streaming, while at least for now, there's (still) a market for round shiny plastic things, so the studios will make DVDs available to the public, and thus Netflix.

Netflix needed that in their lineup so studios had an incentive to listen: "Listen, Netflix is going to buy X copies of the DVD so the studio makes Y dollars from that. How about for more than Y, you let us offer it for streaming?"

The other thing that confused me about removing DVD-only listings was if I've added Iron Man 3 to my list of DVDs I'll want to watch, between all Netflix subscribers, you'd be better able to gauge how many copies to buy. By removing that from my primary Netflix interface (a console), you've now lost that information which makes your job that much harder (in addition to annoying me, your paying customer).

I'm also surprised they didn't become a semi-personalized IMDB alike since they have a huge database of information about movies. Let people *without* paid accounts sign up and make lists of things they'd like to watch. Once that list is on Netflix's system, conversions to paid accounts would seem to have much less friction to me.
posted by fragmede at 6:58 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you think the Netflix streaming queue is bad, it's a cornucopia of film and television compared to what's available on Netflix Canada.

“If you didn’t know anything about the U.S. service, you would love Netflix. It’s broad, pervasive, inexpensive and a great convenience.”


Hey, they just added an assload of Power Rangers series... honestly, I'd love to get the old stuff on Netflix US. Still, it's cheaper than cable.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:59 PM on July 11, 2012


Folks who live in dense urban areas think that endless bandwidth is easy to find.

In North America? Which city? You have to look around fairly hard to get even decent bandwidth by urban standards. With throttling and so forth it can get quite slow. On top of that they put quotas on that can be quite restrictive. That a lot of ISPs are run by television cable or DSL providers makes their motives clear.

I believe most people are very aware of the difference in service levels between rural and urban areas as they are aware of where the most revenue is going to come from. Seeing streaming as a viable option if we can prevent the conflict of interest from the ISPs is not a surprise. It has context in that it's a viable option where there is bandwidth. Obviously where there is not bandwidth, it's not viable.
posted by juiceCake at 7:14 PM on July 11, 2012


In my experience, Amazon Prime streaming is slow and buggy as hell—not much better than warez sites, and you know, it actually costs money. Hollywood Video is dead, Blockbuster is dead to me, and good riddance to both. Family Video apparently has unexpectedly family-friendly (i.e., censored) versions of a lot of movies. Redbox just doesn't have anything I want to watch, period—which is too bad, 'cause it's really conveniently located. Hulu, same thing—it just doesn't have much of anything I actually want to watch (or it teases me with short clips of same). And I just don't really buy anything through iTunes; buying TV episodes or movies that way isn't something I'm particularly interested in exploring.

The vast majority of the time Netflix just works—and it has enough available, even without Starz, that I have DVD and streaming queues too long to get through in the next few years. It certainly has some management problems, and of course I'd love it if there were more movies available for streaming starring John Cusack, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, or Christian Bale (hello, Netflix execs!), but I'm still not really seeing anything better out there.
posted by limeonaire at 7:23 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm looking at my Instant Queue and thinking that you must have had the weirdest neighborhood video store back in the day.

Actually yes. Our local video rental joint was in the back of a mom and pop corner store/deli. The owner took great pride in his collection of Black movies and Westerns. Quentin Tarantino would have loved this place. I worked there for a few years in college, and gained a near-encyclopedic education in 70s Blaxploitation flicks.

The rest of the collection was filled out by buying out the collections of other neighborhood video places when they went out of business. Tons of obscure b-movies, and stock from immigrant-run places that specialized in movies from their homeland.

So yeah, it was weird, and a lot like Netflix streaming is now. Except the deli up front had amazing fried chicken, and being able to buy a six-pack and a bag of wings with your movie rental is what I miss the most about the old days of neighborhood rental spots.
posted by billyfleetwood at 7:37 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't get all the hate on Netflix in this thread. Honestly, I think Netflix is awesome. I can stream hundreds of movies and relatively recent TV shows right to my computer/TV whenever I want? And if it's not available, you'll mail me a disk, postage-paid? For <$20 a month? I'll take one, please! It's significantly better than paying for cable, and dramatically cheaper.

You guys remember Blockbuster, right? 1000s of copies of whatever the latest bullshit is, and nothing else? Paying a membership fee, plus a rental fee, plus stupid-complicated late fees (oh yes, that was a 2-day rental)? Netflix killed that. Good fucking riddance.

I was disappointed with their handling of the Qwikster thing, but they actually heard the complaints and went back on it, which is exceptionally rare.

I get that not everyone has broadband, but most people actually do, and the fact is that broadband is becoming increasingly a major part of modern life, so adoption rates are only going to increase. Not only that, but I've found that their adaptive-streaming copes pretty well with slower [but still broadband] connections, so, for example, my parents who use clearwire and live in the boonies can even use it.

At this point, if Netflix were to go away, I would be incredibly disappointed. As far as I know, there's nothing out there that really competes with it. I have Amazon Prime, and have used their video service, and it's awful. Buggy as all get-out, incredibly slow on OS X, and crappy UI (it's basically a video embedded on a normal Amazon item page--ew.) I also sometimes use iTunes, but since you have to pay for each download, it's quite a bit more expensive. I hate iTunes, but other than that it's a pretty good service. Hulu has a much smaller selection, and ads, so it's getting there, but still not as good as Netflix. Finally, there's torrenting, but that's not available to most people, and for me at least, Netflix is still a bit more convenient, and it supports the people who make the stuff, which I prefer to do, anyway.
posted by !Jim at 7:40 PM on July 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


I actually love the low profile shows Netflix has. I am sure that if they began to focus more on content like Black Books, The I.T Crowd, etc. rather than Gossip Girl they would find themselves a pretty reliable market.

If British (and other international) shows are less expensive, why don't they beef that up?

BRING BACK THE VICAR OF DIBLEY, GODDAMNIT!
posted by Tarumba at 7:56 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amazon Prime streaming is slow and buggy as hell

When did you last try it, and on what device? I watch movies on all of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus (actually mostly TV there) and Vudu. Amazon works as well as or better than almost all of them. Vudu is the only one I'd say is really better, more in terms of video and audio quality than reliability. I watch on a TiVo Premiere and a Playstation 3, and the experience is very good. I will say that I don't watch many of the "free" Prime videos on Amazon, mostly I pay for HD rentals.
posted by primethyme at 8:05 PM on July 11, 2012


I quit Netflix at the beginning of the summer and I don't miss it. Why? Pirate Bay. Sure, I have to download torrents, but I can watch basically what I want and get it much quicker than waiting like two years for the most recent season of Archer of Breaking Bad.
posted by Fister Roboto at 8:07 PM on July 11, 2012


We recently watched all of All Creatures Great and Small on Netflix, which was great.

Incidentally, it's pretty funny watching older British shows after having grown accustomed to the high drama of American television.

"Oh no, the breaks on the car have gone! They will no doubt go careening... harmlessly into a barn at a reasonable speed?"

"Oh man, dude accidentally left the gate to the farm open. I bet this will... cause a mild inconvenience under the end credits?"
posted by ODiV at 8:08 PM on July 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


Serious question: If everyone were to watch the shows they love, love, love through torrenting, how would shows get made in the first place? Doesn't the audience have to pay for it somehow? If that isn't with their time (ads) it can only be through money directly.
posted by Justinian at 8:22 PM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


They have a good selection of kids shows, and the shows I want to watch with my kids. Mostly nature shows.

Since there is no way I'm going to get cable again, it works for us. I loathe commercials.
posted by BeeDo at 8:51 PM on July 11, 2012


If Netflix offered "premium" (recent blockbuster) titles pay-per-view for $1 or $2 (whatever the redbox price is now) I'd be all over that.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:04 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's what I really really REALLY don't get:

The streaming service is eight bucks a month. Eight bucks for a selection that easily surpasses the libraries that 95% of video stores had less than a half decade back. Sure, you're not getting the newest cut of Avatar or whatever other dreck is put out on the expensive end of the movie spectrum, but instead you're getting a stunning array of foreign, classic, indie, and just fucking interesting films FOR EIGHT BUCKS A MONTH.

I watch lot of movies. I always have and I always will. When I was younger, I worked many hours at a few of the highest-regarded video stores in the country. Really. Netflix has a selection in their streaming service that easily comes close to the libraries I used to restock by hand a decade or a decade and a half back. For EIGHT BUCKS A MONTH. Yeah, so if you've got a craving for the new Tom Cruise movie or Sister Act 2 or whatever, they might not have it available. Too bad.

As I said, I watch a lot of movies. Right now my queue has 198 titles in it. 198 titles spanning all eras and genres, a few I've seen, most I haven't - and chances are really really really good I've seen more movies.than you have, as I spent many years living as a slacker and I still haven't shaken the habit completely. Why should I when I have as good .of a selection as Netflix currently offers? 198. I'll never watch them all, but they're there when I want 'em.
posted by item at 9:30 PM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


(and sorry - my period button is too close to the spacebar on this new typing app, an app I'm about to delete.)
posted by item at 9:32 PM on July 11, 2012


The future is probably streaming. But when and if that future will arrive for anyone is the big question. And in the meantime Netflix and everyone else decided to go with the future and "OMG the internets!!!" and FU a business model that they had absolutely no competition in, and incredible customer loyalty, for one that they have very little control over.

I have several devices that stream, and great, fast, reliable internet service. I can count on one hand the number of streaming programs I’ve watched in the last few years. It’s just not for everyone.
posted by bongo_x at 9:34 PM on July 11, 2012


Careful, Justianian---that question will get the internet really, really mad.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:03 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Netflix streaming algorithm via silverlight is the best streaming experience out there.

You know that feeling of anticipation as your Netflix movie buffers really quick then loads? Yeah? You will remember that fondly in ten years' time.
Let's not be so snarky that we forget the time when a new technology made us tense up with excitement. Those experiences aren't just growing on trees.
posted by roboton666 at 10:46 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hah, that's subtle sarcasm, but you're certainly right that waiting for buffering is a sign that it's crappy technology. I don't have to wait for any other video site, so I'm not sure why I should have to wait for Netflix. And Netflix certainly can't hold a candle to the technical video quality that YouTube or Vimeo provides instantly, smoothly, and without a silly and unnecessary "buffering" phase. Silverlight is one of the worst things about Netflix, or Netflix is an absolutely terrible example of using Silverlight, i just don't know enough about the particulars here to know which. /rant about shitty technology that former monopolists somehow still force down people's throats
posted by Llama-Lime at 11:39 PM on July 11, 2012


but it's definitely their fault for having such a crappy interface and no ability to explore and interact with their content in any way that actually makes sense

I quit Netflix a while ago, but before that I'd been finding Netflix movies to watch almost exclusively using instantwatcher.com instead of Netflix's own mediocre interface. Recommended!
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:57 PM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


The streaming service is eight bucks a month. Eight bucks for a selection that easily surpasses the libraries that 95% of video stores had less than a half decade back. Sure, you're not getting the newest cut of Avatar or whatever other dreck is put out on the expensive end of the movie spectrum, but instead you're getting a stunning array of foreign, classic, indie, and just fucking interesting films FOR EIGHT BUCKS A MONTH.

Horses for courses. To me, Netflix streaming is practically useless. I'm shocked and stunned when a movie I'm interested in is actually available for streaming. It happens maybe for 1% of my searches. And no, I don't look for "newest cut of Avatar or whatever other dreck is put out on the expensive end of the movie spectrum". Random example - I just came back from seeing John Waters live at Hollywood Forever. So, I decided to see what old movie of his I could re-watch tonight. Go to streaming, please... it's got SHIT. Not a single fucking one. Not even the Hollywood ones he did. Go to DVDs - at least they got a few of the classics; but of course, that means waiting on the post office. So much for watching some old John Waters tonight. I can do this all day long. It almost never happens that they got what I'm interested in. Fuck that shit. It's useless to me.

And even if they do have something available - recently I practically jizzed myself seeing some old Kurosawa actually(!) available(!) for streaming(!), wow, finally, something available for streaming, ye gads! - they'll do some weird shit where I'll put it in my queue, and a week later I look again, whelp, suddenly it's not available anymore - or "only until XX-XX". What a fucking scam - this is like a parody of the bad DRM scenarios the "information wants to be free" crowd outlines... content controllers being able to randomly YANK shit that was available previously. Fuuuuuck, lol!

I spit on it.

So what is streaming good for, in my use scenario? Various TV shows - though by no means all (yeah, gotta order all the Wire on fuckin' DVDs). But still - leagues better than movies.

When I read stuff about "a stunning array of foreign, classic, indie, and just fucking interesting films", I just laff, laff, laff. Glad it's working for you, cause it sure as hell ain't working for all of us!

Seriously, I see streaming as a joke. Somebody earlier in the thread pointed out how with every shift in technology, we end up with less and less content that carries over - due in no small part to how rights have to be re-negotiated all over again. At least with DVDs, we got some freakin' choices - streaming is a tiny, minuscule, speck of a subset of that. And on top of that, they can yank it back at random. Wow, what a treat! AND no extras as on DVDs, no commentary, features, nothin' - and I look forward to that stuff. Does Criterion Collection stream? No? How very unsurprising. Streaming's got one thing and one thing only - convenience of "right now". But what good is that, when there's rarely anything to stream?

So to each their own. To me streaming is a big pile of shit, and if ever Netflix drops DVDs, I'm out.
posted by VikingSword at 12:33 AM on July 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Wasn't there a company at some point in the past that tried to do streaming without buying the streaming rights, but instead by physically buying DVDs and making a 1:1 correlation between streaming users and physical copies? In other words, if they bought 3 copies of the DVD, they would allow at most 3 people to stream it at any time, such that it was equivalent of sending them the disc in the mail but without the mail part. I seem to recall they lost a legal case. Can anyone remember what I'm referring to?

I ask because it seems like the perfect Achilles' heel to get around the studios. If you could hire a sharp enough lawyer to make the case that streaming as outlined above was legally the same as lending a physical object, then I would think Netflix would be all over it, because it solves a number of problems: you save money by not having to actually mail anything, you can buy DVDs on the free market instead of having to negotiate specially, you can manage capacity by varying the number of DVDs bought, etc.

I'm fully expecting someone to say that this was tried and the company was pilloried in court and that the legal system couldn't possibly acknowledge a similarity that any 10 year old can recognize. And then I'll just have to sigh and think about the bleak future we're all in for when physical objects are gone and everything is DRM.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:00 AM on July 12, 2012


You're probably thinking of Zediva which didn't last long.
posted by ODiV at 1:15 AM on July 12, 2012


But nobody's going to pay $10/month or whatever to 10 different services to get all the content. Things are going to be split into studios and production companies who want to cut out the middleman and keep the revenue for themselves, as they rightly should.

So, you're saying in the near future, instead of multiple retail distributors splitting up the content, we will have multiple studios to choose from. How is this easier? We go from a half dozen retail streaming choices to ... dozens of studios, hundreds even ... We have to go directly to each one to get the content? That sounds insane.

Production companies are going into distribution? I doubt it. It's a headache they don't want. They'd rather have companies like Apple figuring out what the customers will pay, and then they push hard on the providers to squeeze as much as possible out of the business model. Currently they do the squeeze by acrimonious negotiations with cable and satellite providers, and to a lesser extent streaming providers like Netflix, which sometimes results in multiple channels (or simply their content) pulled from the lineup. It's a game of chicken, because (especially with cable and sat.) the providers and the producers know the result; it's just a matter who blinks first. All the same, the customers get the shaft, being used as pawns while content is cut off which they presumably paid for in their subscription fees. Both the providers and producers expect the customer reaction to be negative - just another aspect of the game. It should be illegal to advertise channels and content only to shut it off for paying subscribers without ample warning, but the industry isn't regulated well enough to do anything about it.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:18 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was really interested in the dvd spin off. I have no use for streaming, my internet sucks, so I don't have netflix. I would've joined the dvd off-shoot. I guess I'm the person they were targeting, it sucks that everyone else ruined it for me.

Er... you can just get the DVDs. I do. When they nigh on doubled the price a year ago, I went for the DVD plan.
posted by hoyland at 5:23 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does Criterion Collection stream? No? How very unsurprising.

Criterion Collection films are only available for streaming through Hulu last I checked. I'm not sure if you need a Hulu Plus account or not for it.
posted by Dr-Baa at 6:35 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Eight bucks for a selection that easily surpasses the libraries that 95% of video stores had less than a half decade back. Sure, you're not getting the newest cut of Avatar or whatever other dreck is put out on the expensive end of the movie spectrum, but instead you're getting a stunning array of foreign, classic, indie, and just fucking interesting films FOR EIGHT BUCKS A MONTH.

This is so contrary to my experience with streaming, we must have been using different services (or has it really significantly improved in the last 6 months since I cancelled my account?)

Since I cancelled my account, I can't really list what foreign, classic, indie, and interesting movies that I wanted to watch which weren't available through streaming. I recall they had a lot of documentaries, and a lot of early romantic comedies (many of dubious value to the canon of romatic comedies) and some westerns (ditto). If it was a foreign film, it was a crapshoot as to whether it would be subtitled or dubbed. In every case, it was a crapshoot as to whether it would be in the correct aspect ratio. I think the description of Netflix streaming as similar to cable movies is very apt (except you have to choose to watch Office Space for the 1000th time, rather than catching the middle bit on cable when there's nothing else to watch).
posted by muddgirl at 7:23 AM on July 12, 2012


Had Qwikster gone through, I would have dropped streaming (I may yet still, I don't hardly ever use it). My reasons, though, are that 80% of my Netflix queue is foreign films and anime that I want to be able to watch subtitled. A lot of anime comes streaming dubbed only and some subtitled stuff that is streamed comes with parts of the picture cut off. I don't feel like the people making these decisions are considering the viewing experience of people like me. Additionally, some of these films are old, out of print, or otherwise difficult to get a hold of. Until we can talk someone into re-releasing Paranoia Agent, this seems like the best we can do legally.

The people at KoL had a huge fight about this when it happened last year. There was a current of thought that Jick sided with insisting that people who complained about Qwikster and the price hike were failing to get on board with the streaming-is-the-future vision and were stupid. Isn't the function of visionaries, though, to make people want and sign onto things that they don't know they will need?
posted by koucha at 7:26 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


We don't have cable. We barely use broadcast TV. We don't pirate-stream.We don't use any other pay-video services, and I got fed up with Hulu because I hate commercials. For around $16 a month, our family of four in the last month watched the following on Netflix:

-8 episodes of Battlestar Galactica
-22 episodes of Buffy and 2 episodes of Dr. Who (that's the two teenagers)
-39 episodes of the original Dark Shadows (one of us saw it as a kid, and the other never saw it before)
-3 episodes of King of the Hill
-3 episodes of Mad Men
-5 US TV documentaries (nature/crime)
-10 feature films, mostly foreign/indie
-5 full length documentaries
-8 British TV shows

And we ordered 4 DVDs (two of them were for TV shows we missed episodes of)

Most of this watching is done separately, on different computers. We also have a cord to connect to the TV, which we use for group watching. Aside from Dr. Who and Buffy (which the kids like to watch repeatedly), all of these shows and films are first-time viewing, since we never go to the the cinema. Both my queues are at their top limit (400 shows) because I like to keep track of what's maybe going to lose licensing (so I can watch it before it disappears or decide I don't care that much and delete it) or show up on WI. Obviously I'll never watch all those programs, but I use it like a TV guide.

Aside from getting exercise outside and socializing with friends, this is our sole form of entertainment because of an extremely limited budget. I guess that makes us a key Netflix customer--because I don't understand the complaints. I rarely have WI quality issues--there is more frequently a problem with the DVD being faulty.

I guess I don't have a problem with instant gratification. It doesn't bother me a bit that I don't get to watch a program when everyone else does. I have other things to occupy my time, and I get to watch them when I want, without commercials, stopping and starting whenever. This is far better than paying through the nose for cable + TiVo.
posted by RedEmma at 8:05 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm actually pretty happy with Netflix streaming. The user interface does suck hard (I typically go to my computer and line up movies there) and the selection is odd, but I can always find something I want to watch, even if it wasn't what I was looking for.

That said, I'd really like to have one streaming service with larger selection where some stuff can be bought and some stuff streamed with a monthly fee. And I'd rather it not be Amazon, because they need some competition in this world. I'll pay more for that. I'm currently paying through the nose for cable and the only reason I'm holding on to it right now is I'm not sure if there is another way to watch the Olympics. After that? I'll seriously consider dropping it.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:15 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


shmegegge: But because ultimately everything is going to be streaming. When that happens there won't be One Service that has everything. But nobody's going to pay $10/month or whatever to 10 different services to get all the content.

This seems to be the crucial struggling point here. The problem is I have a really hard time justifying paying any amount of money for being able to stream the 1-4 shows or movies the streaming service of some random content provider offers. Sure HBO has good content, but HBO-Go or whatever they call it can go fuck itself. However, I would pay very large sums of money, and I suspect most others would too, for access to a One Service that has everything.

I mean, look at how shitty cable TV is and the absurd amount of money they charge for it. $50+ a month? For a stable of channels devoted to shows about hoarding the ice trucks used to haul cake bosses to miami? Are you fucking kidding me? Yet tons of people pay for cable TV. A solid One Service streaming operation should be able to easily charge more than this, but because NetFlix has such a crappy selection anymore everyone complains about them increasing the cost to 10 measly dollars a month.

But it turns out, there already is a One Service video content streamer. It's called piracy. And it's free. You have to go to the infectious butthole of the internet to use it, but you'd better believe it has every piece of content ever.

Until a reasonable One Service to Rule Them All, like NetFlix tried and failed to be, exists piracy will continue to be a problem and single content provider streaming services will continue to not make money. But the second one company has the clout to arrange the tangled web of myriad content deals required to do this, it will be a game changer overnight.

Steam is killing piracy and disks for games, Spotify is killing piracy and disks for music, but NetFlix is getting killed by backwards content providers.
posted by cirrostratus at 9:11 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I think streaming is still ten years from reliably providing SDH (subtitles for deaf & hard of hearing) across most selections. "

Did I read somewhere that there's a lawsuit pending about the failure of streaming companies to provide subtitles when streaming? (Hulu's fairly reliable provision of subtitles is one of the things that keeps me coming back to Hulu even when I've seen the same commercial 400 times in the last two weeks or their latest upgrade is making me have to constantly reload the page because every commercial break breaks the player.) I'm not hard of hearing, but I am really addicted to subtitles. I started using them when I had a newborn who never slept so I'd watch TV with it turned down really low, subtitles on, at 3 a.m. so I didn't wake anybody else, and now I'm so used to being able to catch mumbled asides by reading them on the screen, or seeing amusing commentary on the audio cues in the subtitle.

"Mighty Machines is full of awesome"

Mighty Machines ... big and mighty machines! Working for you doin' mighty things, they're ... (BOMP BOMP) Mighty Machines!

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:32 AM on July 12, 2012


Found it, here's a Slate article about the closed captioning lawsuit:
Since 1990, televisions with screens larger than 13 inches have been required to contain the circuitry necessary to display captions, and since Jan. 1, 2006, all new English-language video programming, including live broadcasts (with a few carefully carved-out exemptions), must contain captions. In many markets, broadcasters can use the “electronic news room technique,” in which news-broadcast teleprompter scripts are used as captions, which means that deaf viewers miss live location reports, breaking news bulletins, and unscripted badinage between reporters. But in the top 25 TV markets, broadcasters must provide full real-time captions for all live transmissions.

Broadcasters take the legal requirements seriously. [...] The networks are keen to identify problems in part because the National Association of the Deaf, an effective lobbying group, encourages its members to complain to the FCC whenever captions are absent or unreliable.

One company that a lot of NAD members have complained about is Netflix. In June 2010, NAD sued Netfix [...] claiming its failure to provide closed captioning on its “Watch Instantly” streaming service violates the Americans With Disabilities Act. A judge recently refused to toss out the lawsuit, rejecting Netflix’s claim that the ADA doesn’t apply to Internet-only businesses or to services that people use at home rather than in public places. Judge Michael Ponsor found that it would be “irrational to conclude [that] places of public accommodation are limited to actual physical structures.”
And here's MediaPost on the same story:
Netflix argued that the 1990 federal law -- which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities -- applies to brick-and-mortar retailers, but not to businesses that exist solely in cyberspace. The company also argued that the ADA didn't apply because people used the service at home, and not in public.

Ponsor rejected both of those arguments. "In a society in which business is increasingly conducted online, excluding businesses that sell services through the Internet from the ADA would run afoul of the purposes of the ADA," he wrote in a decision issued last week. "The Watch Instantly Web site is a place of public accommodation and defendant may not discriminate in the provision of the services of that public accommodation -- streaming video -- even if those services are accessed exclusively in the home."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:51 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Production companies are going into distribution? I doubt it. It's a headache they don't want.

I'm sure most people watched Lost on cable tv, but at the time when I didn't have that I watched it on ABC's website. And I still can. They absolutely want that headache because it's worth a lot of money, and streaming video into people's homes is what they do.

And in case there's some confusion because of my phrasing, I see networks like ABC and NBC as part of this, rather than the production companies that make an individual show.
posted by shmegegge at 10:08 AM on July 12, 2012


I would pay very large sums of money, and I suspect most others would too, for access to a One Service that has everything.

I would pay pretty dearly for it, too. But I think the networks and studios want to get that money directly instead. I think this because that's what their behavior toward netflix tells me. We can talk about how penny-wise and pound-foolish that is until the cows come home, but the truth is that HBO doesn't want to give any of the money for their content to netflix and I don't exactly blame them. I blame them for making HBO Go hopelessly locked into an HBO cable subscription. If they did HBO Go in a format closer to hulu for the same price point I would pay for that in a heartbeat and they'd make a hojillion dollars.
posted by shmegegge at 10:12 AM on July 12, 2012


As a technophile with Roku and all that we did the weird thing and switched back to Netflix DVDs, dropping streaming. For streaming we now go to the Web site of whatever show we want. PBS has good streaming, as do the networks and comedy central. It's a ton better than what Netflix has to offer. Streaming Netflix has no classics like wizard of oz, no old TV like dukes of hazzard, none of the great HBO series like Sopranos, not even new episodes of BBC series like Dr Who. With Netflix streaming we found ourselves watching old episodes of "Hoarders" because it was the best thing they had to offer.

As a DVD-only service we are now in like with Netflix again, just not love this time around. It's like returning to an old lover because the sex was good. You know the relationship isn't going anywhere and that they'd dump you if they could, but at least our needs are being met.
posted by efbrazil at 10:13 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing that bugged me the most about the price switch was that there was no discount for having both DVD and streaming. I knew charging extra for streaming was coming, but I figured they'd do something like having streaming would cost the same as adding a DVD, and it confused me why they didn't price it better. Then they announced their stupid Qwikster plan and I realized that's why they were doing the pricing so poorly. Had they gone through with Qwikster, I would have dropped instant, since I mostly view it as a way to go through my DVD queue faster, and I had no desire to periodically comb through my Qwikster DVD queue to find out if they added anything to instant. I'm still thinking I'll drop instant eventually once that queue gets small enough, but right now about half of that is TV shows, which take a while to get through.

I'll probably end up keeping DVD service for as long as they keep making DVDs. On the plus side, they finally bought new DVDs for a few of the old movies that had been sitting in my saved queue for a long time, although I've still got several sitting there collecting virtual dust.
posted by ckape at 11:03 AM on July 12, 2012


HBO doesn't want to give any of the money for their content to netflix...

But wouldn't Netflix be paying HBO? They reportedly paid millions for Mad Men.
posted by juiceCake at 12:11 PM on July 12, 2012


yes, but netflix makes money from their subscriptions. HBO knows that that money can go to them, and would be more than they'd get from netflix if netflix is to make any money.
posted by shmegegge at 1:22 PM on July 12, 2012


I have to say I'd probably get a lot more use out of Netflix if we were allowed to have a queue up here in Canada.
posted by ODiV at 1:35 PM on July 12, 2012


From my view the 'Netflix lost year' may as well be a media invention. I mean, sure, it may have indeed been a lost year to some at Netflix or some in the tech world but as a consumer who has used Netflix [mail service and streaming] for two years it all seems fine to me both as a business and for the quality of its streaming.

So, yes, I'm paying for streaming and mail service. Big deal. The cost is actually pretty damn low. What are my other options? Video stores don't exist much and those that do charge more per movie [over the long run] than Netflix. I can probably stream illegally but why bother? I could use Amazon or iTunes streaming but that costs more. I could also buy DVD's and Blu-ray but the cost would be too much and who wants a 1000 dvds sitting around. [Redbox is okay but 90% of the titles are new mainstream].

I'm not about defending Netflix as much as I am about defending common sense surrounding the whole issue. Studios need to make money. Studios are not about to make a deal with a company that gives away content for pennies. Netflix's cost would go way up if they managed so somehow get all the content the studios could give them. Maybe they will one day and their fees will go up to $50.00 a month. Whatever the future brings I hope an affordable streaming service like Netflix stays around.
posted by Rashomon at 1:35 PM on July 12, 2012


I'm thankful for the Qwikster debacle because the resultant price increase finally allowed me to convince my wife to drop the DVD service. This conversation happened multiple times in the months leading up to that:

Me: "I think we should cancel the disc service."
Her: "But there are things there that aren't available on streaming."
Me: "But we've had the same discs sitting on a shelf for over 6 months! We haven't even opened the mailers!"
Her: "But what if I want to watch them?"
Me: "You won't. Both of us are too lazy to put a disc in the player when we could just pick something from instant from the couch."
Her: "I don't want to cancel the discs."
Me: *groan of frustration*

Now I rarely use the streaming because I'm spoiled for choice. I love all the weird little movies and tv shows available that I've never even heard of. Most of the things I add to the queue are obviously of dubious production value, but you can never tell how that will correlate to content quality. I worry too much about whether I'm going to enjoy the selection or just feel like it was a waste of time, and instead just end up browsing the selections and adding even more things to the queue. I probably spend more time browsing than watching, truth be told.
posted by owtytrof at 1:57 PM on July 12, 2012


From my view the 'Netflix lost year' may as well be a media invention.

They called it a "lost year" not because of media reporting, but because of subscriber numbers. PR is an important facet of business, and the public perception of Netflix (caused by Netflix actions) hurt their subscriber numbers, which hurts their bottom line.

Studios need to make money. Studios are not about to make a deal with a company that gives away content for pennies.

Studios are also not about to make a deal with a company that has a stagnant or decreasing subscriber base. Which is why the article referred to mid 2011 - early 2012 as a "lost year."
posted by muddgirl at 2:02 PM on July 12, 2012


Regarding the suckage of HBO-Go, the reasoning that I've heard is that HBO desperately wants to maintain the leverage they have with the cable companies. Under this theory, if people could get their Game of Thrones on by paying HBO directly and not having cable, then there would be a significantly lower demand for HBO through cable service, which would give them less bargaining power with the Comcasts of the world. Those fees are their golden goose, and anything that threatens their ability to negotiate them threatens the entire business.

I don't know if this concern is legitimate, but I assume they're run the numbers.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:27 PM on July 12, 2012


He became one of those executives with the "visionary" label, who can predict where a market is going before it happens, and was asked to join the board of directors of two of the most important companies in tech, Microsoft and Facebook.

I'm sorry, did this article just say that the most important companies in tech are Microsoft and Facebook?

...Credibility fail...

1. Microsoft does not produce tech (unless you count the Xbox 360 and the new Surface tablet which are made of parts made by other companies.), they produce software.
2. Facebook has almost nothing to do with tech, it is a social media website.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but that line in the article sounds really really stupid to me.
posted by PipRuss at 4:13 PM on July 12, 2012


Software is technology.
posted by muddgirl at 4:17 PM on July 12, 2012


You're wrong. Have you never seen the 'Technology' section of a newspaper, or read anything labelled 'tech news'?
posted by jacalata at 4:20 PM on July 12, 2012


I sit corrected.
posted by PipRuss at 4:24 PM on July 12, 2012


I admire your relaxed approach.
posted by jacalata at 4:30 PM on July 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have over 200 items in my instant queue. Many of those items are TV series with tens or hundreds of episodes. Even if I stopped adding things it might take me years to watch it all. At any given time I am streaming some random thing from Netflix like Kolchak the Night Stalker. I fucking love Netflix.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:59 PM on July 12, 2012


I primarily use the DVD's. I hardly use streaming for the reasons of "hardly anything I want to watch on it, movie-wise," but occasionally I have found things on streaming (Jeremiah season 2 doesn't exist anywhere else) that can't be found otherwise. That's pretty much why I haven't gotten rid of streaming yet, even though I ignore it 90% of the time and just pay the money for "when I'm in the mood."

It's not that streaming isn't the wave of the future...it's just plain not good enough or available enough yet to get rid of DVD's for it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:15 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The most annoying thing about Netflix lately is that the streaming interface doesn't keep track of the last show I watched. It used to be dead accurate; now I have to record my place separately because it keeps insisting on showing me episodes I've already seen. Really, Netflix? Isn't that a trivial database thing?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:46 PM on July 12, 2012


I have both services, still, and both are providing me with, as Ad hom noted, enough content to keep me busy for a long time to come. I have 475 movies in the DVD queue, about 40 things "saved" (which tend to show up on Instant sooner than DVD, interestingly), and a too-many-choices-to-be-satisfied ("jam problem", above) 75 things on Instant. I actually have to force myself to watch things by prioritizing Netflix DVD, Netflix Instant, public library DVD, and using tricks like watching the ninth item on the ninth day of the month, just to plow through it all. I just finished S1 of Farscape, and I'm almost through S3 of Star Trek:TOS, with TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT still to go.

I will note one significant change lately. The on-box interface for Instant is a constant annoyance, as it's just the flipboard of covers, and somehow the full description is always too long for the software to display, so you get things like "A gentleman thief and his lady love trav". Ack. But the Top Picks for You feature -- recommendation engine -- was actually getting pretty damn good for me, even despite my niece constantly watching sappy romances regardless of quality. I almost always saw several movies I liked in Top Picks. Then, suddenly, about 6-8 weeks ago, it began recommending nothing but TV series. I do watch TV series on Instant but, as noted, not exclusively, and my viewing patterns haven't changed, but the recommendations sure have. I worry this is a harbinger of something Not Good about the service, even though it runs counter to the public strategy. Are they going to transition to a "catch up on TV" only business model? That's what this change suggests to me.

And heck, they do sometimes still get newish stuff, like Drive showing up on Instant literally a day or two after I got the disc following the warned "short wait".

I think I'm somehow in their ideal customer bucket, as I'm not terribly concerned with all those big-star big-BO releases from the last 5-10 years. But it sure would be nice to, say, call up Indiana Jones on call.

I share the worries about a loss of content, globally, from the disc domain to the streaming domain. Heck, there are films that still haven't had a proper DVD release, and usually that's the minimum bar because it means digitalization of the film, making streaming possible. Still, it's becoming clear that while some things are going to be available due to popularity, other things that represented the onetime dream of the massive long tail endless supply of content are just not going to pan out. I was really keen on seeing the old Roddenberry/Lockwood series The Lieutenant -- but now we're going on 2 years since that was promised (look at that cast!). This -- watching old, obscure stuff like that -- is sort of my content "flying car" and why the hell can't I have it? Red Dwarf showed up on Instant long enough for me to find, despite probability, that I hated it, but where the heck is Blake's Seven or Space:1999?

Anyway, I finally succumbed to necessity and watching MI:Ghost Protocol via Amazon, which worked pretty well, except I had connectivity issues (localized) the next day as I wanted to watch it again and my rental was timing out. I'm also carefully accumulating my own collection (the very idea!) of Blu-Ray and DVD favorites, mostly on sale, which despite being stuff I really like (e.g. Terminator series), still suffers from the jam problem and just sits on the shelf, as accessible as possible yet still not what I feel like watching now.
posted by dhartung at 2:02 AM on July 13, 2012


But the Top Picks for You feature -- recommendation engine -- was actually getting pretty damn good for me, even despite my niece constantly watching sappy romances regardless of quality. I almost always saw several movies I liked in Top Picks. Then, suddenly, about 6-8 weeks ago, it began recommending nothing but TV series.

The "Top Picks" algorithm on Netflix is weirdly overweighted towards whatever it is you last watched. If you watch a British BBC mystery show, it'll flood the "Top Picks for You" panel with about eight more of them plus, maybe, a couple of American mystery shows. If you then watch a Hollywood movie, it'll scrub all that and fill it with similar movies. I guess they found that if they just tried to build an algorithm that drew consistently on all your ratings the list remained too static and eventually people stopped looking at it. I do find it annoying.

If you have the DVD subscription, though, you can click through to "Browse DVDs" and then on to "Suggestions for You"--and that's searchable by genre--and the rankings are much more stable. For searching for Watch Instantly stuff I use instantwatcher.com, which lets you rank things by Netflix ranking, by RottenTomatoes ranking and by NYT critics recommendations--all within genre or subgenre categories. If you subscribe to instantwatcher.com you can get it to give you your weighted Netflix ratings for the films too--but I haven't bothered to do that yet. It does mean that you can manage your Watch Instantly queue from the instantwatcher.com site, though.
posted by yoink at 10:19 AM on July 13, 2012


HBO knows that that money can go to them, and would be more than they'd get from netflix if netflix is to make any money

If it was just on Netflix sure. But if HBO sold all their shows after first broadcast of a season on to Netflix, they'd get a hell of a lot of money they wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
posted by juiceCake at 11:10 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


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