Stuck between Netflix and a hard place

July 13, 2011

There are two types of people in the world right now: those who are angry at Netflix and those who don’t have Netflix.

Like everyone else, I received the email yesterday notifying me that as of September 1, 2011, my $10 Netflix plan that includes 1 DVD at a time and online unlimited streaming will be discontinued. Instead, they offer separate plans for DVDs and for streaming. 1 DVD at a time will now cost $8, and unlimited streaming will now also cost $8. There is no discount for bundling, so if I want to continue the same level of service, it will now cost me $16 per month.

It’s not the money that bothers me. Prices were bound to go up. Maybe this is a pretty severe jump all at once, but it’s not completely unexpected.

What bothers me is the false choice it represents. If money does indeed talk (and I believe it does) then Netflix is asking me to choose from these options:

  1. I like getting DVDs from you, but I don’t care for your streaming service. Please take my money and keep the DVDs coming.
  2. I love your streaming service, but DVDs in the mail is so 2003. Please take my money and let me stream to my heart’s content, but don’t make me walk out to the mailbox.
  3. I like DVDs and I also like streaming, and I’m willing to pay more money for both.
  4. Netflix, you suck. Cancel my subscription.

I don’t believe that any of these four options correctly captures my real intent:

I would be willing to pay $16 per month, maybe even more, just for the streaming service, provided that the streaming selection didn’t suck.

The streaming selection Netflix (or any other provider) has to offer is simply unacceptable. When I started Netflix I was impressed by the streaming selection under the assumption that as time progressed, its size would only increase. But that has not been the case. As licensing contracts come and go, some movies appear and disappear from my online queue, but by and large, my opinion of the offerings as a whole has always been a resounding “Meh”.

There aren’t a lot of other market options either. Let’s review some alternatives to Netflix:

  • Amazon Prime – Cheaper than Netflix at $79/year, but all indications are that their selection is even worse than Netflix Streaming. Plus I’d need to buy a Roku box because my Blu-Ray player only has Netflix built in.
  • Blockbuster – the whole appeal of Blockbuster’s DVD program was that you could return it to a store and get a new DVD faster than Netflix’s mail turnaround. With nearly every Blockbuster in my area closing in the wake of their bankruptcy filing (I honestly don’t know of a location nearby that’s still open) this advantage is moot. Fail.
  • Hulu – seems to be focused more on competing with Dish and Cable than with movies. Maybe they offer some hope for the future though.
  • Redbox – honestly I can see the potential appeal, but it’s never in the right place at the right time. I see people lined up at the Redbox at my local supermarket like hamsters trying to get at a feeder bar, but I want to make my entertainment decisions on my couch, not while I’m buying groceries.
  • Apple TV – perhaps with an Apple TV I could rent the movies I really want to watch (starting at $3.99 each, which beats the old bricks and mortar Blockbuster price or Dish Network’s Pay-Per-View price, and can be initiated from my couch) but its other feature seem pretty limited in comparison to a Roku box.

Of course the problem isn’t Netflix at all. Netflix can only stream what they have licensing rights to. Unfortunately, it seems Hollywood is repeating all the mistakes of the music industry a decade ago:

Right now, in fact, the movie and TV business looks a lot like the music one did in the early 2000s. And as we’ve seen, that decade didn’t work out too well for the labels. So it’s worth looking at the situation and wondering how things are going to fare in the TV and movie world in the decade ahead.


…the music industry, when it began to feel the effects of the technological change coming, doubled down on stupid.

And so it seems the prospects of being able to stream any movie, including new releases, at any time, even if we’re willing to pay for it, are nil.

I still don’t know what I will do with my Netflix account come September 1. I want the streaming service to be great and succeed, but I’m not sure I can pump more money into a broken status quo.

Until Hollywood gets over itself, it seems I’m stuck between Netflix and a hard place.