Sep 19, 2011
An Open Letter In (Somewhat) Defense Of Netflix...
I get it. You're stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, you've got your DVD delivery service, a market that you created out of the ether and which has made you a bazillion dollars. But you're looking to the future and have wisely come to the conclusion that DVDs are yesterday's news and that the future lies in streaming content. But the streaming infrastructure is still somewhat half-baked. Not everyone out there has an easy way to stream content to their televisions, and in some areas the bandwidth/picture quality just isn't there yet, leaving you with a few million people who still think they're getting a more convenient/higher quality viewing experience by waiting three days for a red envelope to appear in their collective mailboxes. And let's not forget all the people who are just intrinsically late adopters and just don't trust streaming content yet. (These are the same people who still use AOL email addresses.) On top of all that, you're still having some trouble convincing studios/content providers to really get on board with this whole streaming model, leaving you with a diminished selection of titles and a somewhat crappy profit deal.
At the end of the day, DVDs are going to become the albatross around streaming's neck, so trying to divide the two makes sense, and I was all for offering streaming-only and delivery-only services. That was a no-brainer. Was I happy that you bumped up the price tag for those of us who want to continue to partake of both services? Of course not. No one likes paying more money without getting more/better service in return. But it was a fairly marginal price increase, so I was prepared to pay it without argument. Besides, it's not as if you have any competition worth talking about. Apparently Blockbuster still exists, although I know of exactly zero human beings who actually use it. There's talk of owner Dish Network bundling it with their existing service, but Dish is a second-tier name in a market (satellite) that still falls short of cable's numbers in the U.S.
But this morning's news, delivered via an email from Reed Hastings, seems to have driven most people over the edge. Again, dividing streaming and delivery into separate services is actually understandable, and by re-branding the delivery services as Qwikster, it feels like you're really just making it easier to eventually bring it out onto an ice floe and send it drifting out into the arctic. You wanna give it a new name? Fine. You wanna bill me twice instead of once? So long as the overall price stays the same, I don't care. But now I've got to manage two different queues on two different websites?
What the FUCK?
Come on, Netflix. You've built up so much goodwill over the years. I've been such a supporter. Hell, there was about a two year period where I didn't have the extra cash to shell out every month, (and didn't have a ton of time to watch stuff anyway) but didn't want to lose my massive queue, so you were gracious enough to let me indefinitely suspend my service with no penalties. That was AMAZING, and it ensured that I'd eventually come back to play in your sandbox. All of a sudden, it feels like the customer experience has become secondary to you; instead, you seem focused only on your balance sheets and internal infrastructure, which is ironic as this shift in attitude as caused your stock to plummet.
In the upcoming movie Moneyball, the character of Red Sox owner John Henry tells Brad Pitt's Billy Beane, "The first one through the wall always gets bloody." I think that's what you're experiencing right now. You can see the future of your business model and you're panicking that if you don't start adapt accordingly, you'll become the Myspace of home movies. You're afraid of getting left behind, so instead you're trying to make a big leap forward, hoping that studios and viewers will come along with you. So I give you credit for pushing the boundaries, for leading the charge towards simple and seamless streaming content. Unfortunately, we're all getting charged more (both financially and mentally) in the process, and people are getting understandably pissed about it. You need an olive branch, and some form of Netflix/Qwikster queue integration would be a nice start. A cheaper rate for joint users would be a better one. Your saving grace is that, at the moment, you're still the only game in town...but the more that customers feel like they're being marginalized, the more likely it is that they'll abandon you once some young upstart finds a way to build a better (and possibly) cheaper mousetrap. At in the future, when physical media has long since gone the way of the dodo, we'll look back and take pity on you, Netflix.
The first one through the wall always gets bloody.