Thursday, July 14, 2011

Netflix - Angering the Internets

As I write this, the internets are angry. The number was nine the last time I checked, but today, Netflix's own list of top 100 films contains only eight items that are available via its streaming service -- and of those, only one is in the top 30, and of that one, 100% is The Unexpectedly Disappointing Case of Benjamin Button or Who's Afraid of Benjamin Button or Benjamin Button: Time Will Seem to Flow Backwards as You Watch or Benjamin Button: Dark Side of the Moon, or whatever that lachrymose piece of crap is called.

Naturally, given the manifestly middling quality of its streaming service, Netflix is increasing its rates in order to pull more money from its customers properly price its offerings:
[W]e are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into separate plans to better reflect the costs of each and to give our members a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan or the option to subscribe to both. With this change, we will no longer offer a plan that includes both unlimited streaming and DVDs by mail.
Lance Ulanoff thinks Netflix is doomed. Doomed, I tells ye!
Over time, the world will walk away from physical media. Broadband access (wired or wireless) will reach every part of the U.S. and further and further around the globe, and consumers will get their HD video content exclusively from the Web ... With Netflix making almost no headway in accessing first-run films for instant streaming, and no hurdles to stop consumers like me from switching, Netflix's future looks very dire indeed.
Well, sure, but raising the price on a lackluster service is something beyond not-a-hurdle -- it's all but asking people to leave.

For me, Netflix streaming is worth little because of poor selection, poor sound quality, and the unavailability of subtitles (closed caption), commentary, and other extras that frequently come with physical disks. That means it's good for (a) the narrow band of videos it offers -- fans of Cheers, Family Ties, and Hawaii Five-O rejoice! -- where (b) you don't really care that you're only hearing it in two-channel stereo -- most tee-vee shows and films were recorded and mixed long before surround sound was widely adopted --  and (c) you can confidently assume there are no special features of interest and, of course, (d) you don't need closed caption because your hearing is perfect and you have no trouble with anyone's accent in any production. Oh, and don't forget that it works well only if (e) your internet connection is stable and swift, but with (d) and (e), I unfairly speak as though we live in an imperfect world.

So, with whatever apologies are due to Lance Ulanoff, I don't join him in welcoming the twilight of physical disks and the dawn of the streaming-only video age. Perhaps events will prove him right, but I see nothing to cheer about if so.

Still, for all my grousing, I will not drop Netflix --- not completely, and not yet. I will drop the streaming thing as soon as the price goes above zero. Until it drops off my account, it will remain a 'nice-to-have' for the rare case when something worth watching arrives there. Who knows? Maybe between now and September I'll want to remind myself of why I never thought much of Family Ties in the first place, or maybe their catalog of streaming titles will markedly expand. I will drop Netflix entirely the moment they seem to be skimping on their inventory of physical disks.

Last and least, to assure both readers that I am nothing if not richly layered, I note that I have made the final edits to this post while playing X-Men via Netflix streaming.

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