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.