I saw the internet somewhat explode when NetFlix announced a serious price hike. I actually received my email today, and it was about $2 more per month than I expected, but...
In this age of modern technological miracles mostly aimed at instant gratification and self-satisfaction, there's pretty much nothing it seems we can't find to grouse about. Louis CK has a bit on how the world is now an absolutely amazing place, and nobody's happy.
I just want to point out: Netflix is a service that provides an enormous portion of American and International Cinema to either your mailbox or to your laptop for about the cost of two movie tickets per month. The sheer volume of choice and opportunity is... astounding. Its the library of Alexandria for movies. And, its been a semi-experimental operation, breaking old distribution models and assumptions left and right since its inception.
I did something prior to writing this post that I never do: I unscientifically and casually asked people on Facebook and Twitter about how they felt about the price hike and got a variety of responses. Most folks seemed at peace with the change and suspected the mechanics of it figured something along the lines of passing the cost to the consumer. I tend to agree with those people. Others were a bit more outraged at the percentage of the hike, and I kind of get that. It IS a big hike, but I'm still so tilted by what I saw as an unsustainable business model by Netflix and the studios that I'm glad that was as far as it went.
I'm not sure when I signed up for Netflix, but it was a long time ago now. I was disenchanted with Blockbuster's policies such as getting rid of anything in store that didn't rent during x-number of weeks (which is how they have 40 copies of The Krumps and no copies of, oh, Breakfast at Tiffany's), the fact that Blockbuster's nigh-monopoly of the 90's meant that they edited movies to satisfy certain markets. Not to mention that I never figured out how to not pay overdue charges at Blockbuster without returning the tape the same day I'd rented it.
In college I lived near I Luv Video, which helped a lot (Austinites will nod knowingly at the selection they could brag on back in the day). And for a big chain, I think Hollywood Video gave it a pretty good run and seemed to have more options. But in Arizona (02-06), we had only Blockbuster and one of those places that cuts all the nudies and swears out of movies.*
So, I recall looking at the selection on Netflix at the time and thinking "well, gee, this is way the @#$% better than Blockbuster or Hollywood Video when it comes to selection. You've got this queue so you can get whatever comes up next if you can't get the one that's up first. And no overdue fee? Just me and my lazy ass returning the movie for a flat rate? NEAT."
My rental costs were running around $7 a week, so figure about $30 a month, pre-late fee. So had I ever taken full advantage of NetFlix and watched movies every 5 days or so, I would have been saving a ton of money.
A couple years back now, I bought an HD Roku and that's how I enjoy the miracle of streaming, on-demand movies. Sure, the selection wasn't great at first, but since its inception, Netflix has added more and more streaming movies, including some less-popular stuff that the studio let them have that I would guess was never going to be popular enough that the studio was actually going to publish a physical copy of the movie. And they add tons of backcatalog stuff each month.
Basically, unlike the physical store or how my local cable provider has dealt with "on demand"**, Netflix has always had the widest selection of entertainment and movies available.
The studios have let Netflix run a bit roughshod, and I have to give them a bit of credit here. It seems that they've created a scenario in which they let Netflix work out the kinks without making too much noise about the money they must have seen disappearing. Had the studios followed their usual plans of vertical integration and opened their own streaming services, no doubt the cost would have been prohibitive, and the whole concept of a single "marketplace" to look for movies (and a highly usable search tool) would be... kind of useless. You'd have been managing a half-dozen accounts and wondering why something like Netflix didn't exist (and I still don't "rent" movies from Amazon, because I get annoyed at paying $2 to watch a single movie in my own home when I've got this service like Netflix that I think they should be partnering with).
And its gotten us to be legal consumers. There's no question people I know who wouldn't steal so much as a piece of gum from Wal-Mart have no problem downloading Harry Potter movies from servers in India. And I'm glad about that. You may not know this, but it costs a lot of money to make even a supposedly cheap independent film. More than you're going to see this year (obviously not you, Rich Uncle Pennybags. I know you own those hotels! Quit rubbing it in my face.).And this means we've delayed the collapse of the entertainment industry for a bit.
Hollywood is not a factory of dreams and rainbow fairies making movies so that you can feel a moment of joy at the end of a hard day's labors. They're there to make money by selling you fart jokes or heroes punching bad people.*** I don't think its necessary to get into the business-thinking or business of movies, but suffice it to say: its all about making as much money off your intellectual property as possible, and that has increasingly come to include home viewing.
And, no, they might not be losing money by letting Netflix stream you a copy of Caligula, they likely aren't seeing any profits on it either. And they're going to want a nickel for every time you watch that movie. At some point, the studios weren't going to let Netflix treat the streaming services (or even the high rotation of physical disks) like it wasn't losing them some money. They were going to raise fees, and Netflix would need to figure out how to deal with that.
But Netflix's business model is mired in that flat fee, and to charge per-view is surely going to screw that up. In some ways, its protecting their heavier users from paying much, much steeper charges by spreading the cost of service around a bit more. And, I have to say, I'm fine with that. I'm still gobsmacked at the ever-growing selection and the promise of a company that will soon be able to stream every damn movie ever made right to my TV.
If you don't like your streaming capability, by the way, its likely not Netflix. Its more likely your network. Don't get mad at them, get mad at your ISP. If you don't like their streaming selection: wait. Every month, that service gets better.
Ten years ago, I used to have to buy movies because I knew that no video rental place near me would carry a copy, and we're talking fairly mainstream movies but movies that didn't turn over often enough to justify the shelf space at your local video shop. I'd also like to add: Jamie is doing an inventory right now, but I think we own around 500 movies, seasons of TV shows, etc.. on home video on DVD and Blu-Ray. Each of those cost something, and it ain't been cheap. But as I said above, that was more or less the option if you wanted to see a movie. Netflix has changed all that.
Everything is amazing, and nobody is happy.
*I am not kidding. I assumed their cut of Goodfellas ran about eight minutes.