My Response to the Changes at Netflix

I was puzzled when a late evening email from Reed Hastings arrived in my inbox on September 18th, with the subject line “An Explanation and Some Reflections.”  I almost deleted it as junk mail.  It turned out to be an oddly-worded message from the co-founder and CEO of Netflix, the largest internet/by-mail movie rental company in the US.  Netflix recently angered subscribers by raising their rental fees and restructuring their services.  This email from Hastings was both an apology and a press release about even bigger changes coming to Netflix.  Instead of smoothing things over, this latest announcement has increased subscriber dissatisfaction.  Over 27,000 comments have been posted on the Netflix blog responding to the news.

I’m not happy with the decision to split the company into Netflix (streaming services) and Qwikster (DVDs by mail) with two independent websites and separate credit card billing.  I guess I will be switched over to Qwikster, because I’m currently only getting DVDs by mail.   That’s because what I want to watch either isn’t available streaming yet or streams so poorly, stuttering along with bad resolution, that it’s not worth paying for that kind of frustration.  The biggest hassle for folks subscribing to both services will be having to check two sites to see if a movie is available in either format.  In the past, one site showed all this information in one place.

Still, my reaction to the changes coming to Netflix has been overshadowed by my feelings about this statement by Reed Hastings: “Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD. ”  This is completely ridiculous.  Perhaps Mr Hastings is more of a businessman than a film buff, but I’m still shocked at his ignorance.  

According to the National Film Preservation Foundation, approximately 50% of all US feature films made before 1951 no longer exist.  Around 80% of all US feature films made in the 1910s and 1920s have been lost.  These figures even don’t take into account all the films made in other countries.  Some estimate that 99% of all silent films are gone.  Many went up in flames or simply deteriorated due to the instability of nitrate film stock.  Many more were deliberately destroyed because few believed that the films would have any lasting significance.  Even the films stored in archives today are at risk while they sit waiting for the funding needed for restoration.

If you’re a lover of foreign films, you know that “nearly every film ever made is published on DVD” does not apply to overseas titles available to US viewers.  Many independent films have never received a DVD distribution deal, regardless of their country of origin.  Picture all these numbers, then narrow them down to the actual number of film titles that you can rent from Netflix.  My “saved” queue of films on Netflix is almost as long as my rental queue.  These are the films with no known release date.   This list also includes titles that are currently available to buy on DVD, but Netflix doesn’t know when or if they will ever be available for rental.

What Netflix isn’t saying directly is that the US Postal Service is bankrupt and in crisis.  With threats to end Saturday delivery or shut down altogether, nobody knows how long our Post Office will be able to deliver DVDs quickly and reliably.   The closest Reed Hastings came to stating the problem in his announcement was this: “DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible.”  The folks at Netflix are obviously scrambling to switch over to streaming content in order to stay in business, leaving those of us with older equipment and bad DSL service behind.  I may have to give up my Netflix/Qwikster habit if things continue in this direction.  I’ll just have to wait and see.

Since this news announcement on September 18th, I’ve stopped receiving Netflix email notifications telling me when a DVD has been received and informing me what my next title will be.  I hope this is not the kind of customer service Qwikster will provide in the future.

I’m interested in hearing your opinion.  Please post your comments.

Update 10/10/11:  Netflix announced today that the company will not be split up.  The price increase—and the separation of DVDs and streaming into two plans—will stay in effect.  Supposedly there will be no further price increases, but we’ll see about that.  I’m just wondering what will happen to the new CEO who was going to run Qwikster.  So much for the promotion.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Nelia Green on September 27, 2011 at 6:37 am

    My Comment on Netflix Blog – 9/20/11:

    Ah ha! What if one of your most important relationships betrayed you? Separation, divorce, counseling, resignation, perhaps even murder could be the result. I have been a loyal member/fan of Netflix for over 6 years – avid film fan for nearly 70 – adore the ratings feature, and have 3700 so far. Seems like managing my passion for film is a part-time job, and Netflix has made it possible for me to organize all my viewing activities including: movie theatre, library, and research. The romance is definitely over, and I’m shopping for a new SWEETHEART!

    Interesting – the very day before the NEWS bulletin arrived mid-July, I’d set up WiFi & ROKU to Stream to my TV, and planned switching to 1 DVD – at least I hadn’t felt pressured into making the choice. Equipment’s not cheap, and not always easy to set up – ROKU tech couldn’t help after 2 hrs of head scratching – ended up solving myself.

    My Instant Queue has quickly dwindled to about 40 films, mostly foreign or doc titles that I barely recognize. DVD turnaround service is dismal – taking 3-4 days to arrive, and the 10 new releases on TOP for weeks are now on a growing wait list. What’s happened? With 200 films in my DVD Queue, at this rate, I’ll not live long enough! The idea of juggling separate, non-interactive sites will really screw it up, not just for me, but for 99% of Netflex/Qwikster subscribers. Hate the trendy name “Qwikster” – does not inspire trust with me – who thought that one up?

    Note: Since I made my comment on Netflix Blog, I’ve not been able to view any new comments – perhaps sharing with my Facebook messed it up.

    Reply

    • Thanks for sharing your comment here, Nelia, where I hope you won’t have the same viewing problems. My DVD delivery hasn’t slowed down yet, but I’ve given up on those long wait lists for new releases, getting them from my nearest redbox instead. Obviously Netflix is purchasing fewer hard copies of new releases, or why else would there be so many “very long waits”? Unless they’ve simply acquired too many subscribers and they need to scare some of them away!

      Reply

      • Posted by Nelia Green on September 27, 2011 at 4:06 pm

        Stacey – For the most part, typical DVDs I’m waiting on are not the most popular films since I’m attracted to off-beat, foreign, docs, and indie fare. Best guess is that they’ll end up on Streaming, or perhaps they only have a few copies to share. This morning I noticed two just released films ripe for PLAY – nice to quickly move them to INSTANT before clogging up my DVD Queue and mailbox with something I could have streamed. Curious how soon the Netflix split will take place, and whether or not customer dissatisfaction will play a role.

        There’s Redbox at local King Soopers – need to take a look, but think I’ve already seen the mainstream films of interest at the local movie house. Local library system is gearing up to dispense films ordered ahead on line – an attempt to reduce theft of new releases – huge equipment installation has stood waiting since April, and there’s nothing to speak of on the Xpress (7-day) shelf.

        Feels good to talk about it ….

        Reply

        • I live on the same block as two redboxes, so they’re very convenient. I can reserve titles online, to be sure they’re available when I go by. Selection is definitely limited to major new releases and those (mostly) awful straight-to-dvd releases. I also can wait too long before new titles rotate out. Naturally I was chuffed that my redbox dispensed the Les Mis 25th Anniversary DVD, and they kept if for a surprisingly long time, too. Maybe because that was ME renting it so often!

          I haven’t heard a date yet for the Netflix split either. I hope my email notifications return when it does happen!

          Reply

  2. Posted by Kate on September 27, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I have to say I was none too happy with the Netflix changes as well. I use both streaming and DVDs, and having to go to two different sites, as well as deal with two different charges on my credit card (as if I don’t have enough to keep track of already!) is not at all convenient. And what irks the most is the explanation was made to sound like an apology. It wasn’t. As for the “nearly every movie is on DVD” comment, I was just browsing Netflix the other day and noticed a few things I wanted to see, but then I was greeted with the lovely green “Save” button. I guess I have to decide if seeing the DVDs Netflix does have, and being able to watch the few things I want to see that are streaming, is worth being treated so disrespectfully by Netlfix/Qwikster.

    Reply

    • Posted by Kate on September 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm

      Also, if Netflix really wants to make it up to me they can start by increasing the volume on their streaming stuff. I almost always have to use headphones on my laptop to hear the darn thing.

      Reply

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