Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thoughts on Netflix

Judging by topics trending on Twitter and the outrage expressed in my own friends' statuses and tweets, Netflix's recent decision to force subscribers to choose between instant streaming and receiving discs in the mail (or to pay a premium to receive both services) was not too popular--and that's putting it mildly. This proves once again that if you give someone unreasonable discounts on something once, they will expect them for the life of the product or service. (See: Amazon eBooks.) Truthfully, I wasn't too upset by the recent news because our decision is a no-brainer: instant streaming.

Abby and I are Netflix newbies. We decided to give Netflix a try last May because we had heard so many of our friends rave about it and because they introduced instant streaming via TV-connected devices (namely, the Wii). We expected to use the discs primarily with instant streaming only supplementing them. (And the BBC selection was a wonderland--we had already exhausted our local library's.) Our viewing habits have shifted, and after we watched Downton Abbey on streaming while the discs were on "long wait," our discs usually languish while we watch what's in our instant queue. In fact, we usually watch the discs out of guilt. "Oh, I suppose we should watch this so we can send it back and get the next one." (See: Flight of the Navigator.)

I'll be perfectly honest here: I think the whining about Netflix's decision is unfounded. The business of offering discs and streaming seems obviously transitional and unsustainable. And with a name like Netflix, it's only a matter of time before the discs go away altogether. The reason behind our choosing instant streaming is more than just "this meets our current viewing habits" (which are already too sporadic and discerning for network TV or even cable, which never stood a chance in our household). It's also a buy-in to what Netflix is doing. Think about it: when Netflix first came out, it seemed like a ridiculous idea. DVDs shipped to your house? How could shipping ever be fast enough or their selection be large enough to supply demand? But with enough people getting on board, Netflix reached critical mass, and they were able to keep everything in stock while still maintaining fast service.

I don't think Netflix's decision to split their services is a bad thing because I believe what happened with their disc service will happen with instant streaming. Yes, the selection there is currently lacking (though they continue to expand it and I'm surprised by what's included--see: cartoons from my youth). But as they reach critical mass with more and more subscribers choosing instant streaming only, this will only improve as they can invest their resources more directly in a single business. They've already built a DVD infrastructure; now it's instant's turn. And in the meantime, there's plenty of Psych, BBC period pieces, and other items of interest (mostly make-you-feel-guilty-about-your-life documentaries that are clogging up our queue because we never want to watch them) to keep us occupied until the streaming improves.

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