In the past few months, Netflix has garnered the type of publicity Goldman Sachs received after the financial crash and BP received after the oil spill.
Little ol’ Netflix, the company that started in 1997 and has delivered more than a billion DVDs since and angered nearly that many people this year.
A few months ago, Netflix raised prices and split its DVD and streaming services. The announcement led to outrage and rioting in the streets – or at least the 21st century equivalent of those things. People vented on Twitter and Facebook. They left nasty online comments. They raged on blogs. And they canceled their subscriptions.
On Monday, Netflix announced it lost 800,000 subscribers in the U.S. in the third quarter.
The whole thing confused me, although maybe it shouldn’t have. People don’t need much of a reason to express displeasure with a service, especially one offered by a media company. Check in with a circulation department at a newspaper when the paper decides to eliminate a comic. You can do a lot of things with your newspaper – eliminate staff, which weakens coverage; shed news space; eliminate photographers; cancel road trips for sports writers. It’ll all be met with a collective shrug, if not cheers from the locals who are fed up with biased coverage from the area rag. But cut back on Beetle Bailey or eliminate the unreadable bridge column? Watch the complaints roll in by the hundreds. Listen to the angry calls. Tabulate the canceled subscriptions.
The customer’s always right, so I suppose those 800,000 who left Netflix were right, even if they seem so wrong-headed.
Netflix didn’t help itself any in September, when the company announced it would branch off into two separate companies – one would handle the DVDs, the other streaming. The new company’s name? Qwikster. Now the original Netflix name is a classic. It’s movies you get online. It’s films you get off the web. Flicks from the Internet. Netflix. But Qwikster sounds like a Midwestern gas station chain with 186 stores spread across Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, a delivery company whose employees run around in spiffy blue uniforms while competing with UPS, or a software package you can use to do your taxes at home. It has nothing to do with movies, unless it’s somehow offering cheap adult films with running times of under three minutes.
Qwikster made no sense, even to passionate Netflix subscribers who stayed with the company through the price hike.
About that hike. We have the plan that allows us unlimited streaming and three DVDs at a time. For that we pay 26 bucks. It was $21. Two years ago, it was $18. We have two computers in our home and many times both of us are watching streaming videos off of Netflix at the same time. We also rotate through the three DVDs each week and have a new batch by the end of it. All of that for $26.
For comparison, when we go to a movie in the theater in New York City, it’s $13 bucks per ticket, so $26 for a Fury family night on the town. That’s before the $7 dollar popcorn, $6 Cokes – with free refills on larges – and $5 bags of Skittles. The sticky floors and kicks to the back from unruly teenagers out on first dates are free. And I say that as someone who still loves going to the theater. But that $26 monthly fee remains one of the best entertainment deals anywhere. Netflix: Feel free to use that line in a commercial or tweet.
Obviously the company could have handled the PR angle better. Business students will study Netflix’s missteps for the next 20 years. They’ll probably watch a documentary about the fiasco, delivered to them from a company that springs up to crush Netflix.
But my support will not waver. People complain about the streaming offerings and those are valid complaints. There isn’t as much available as there is with the DVDs. But dig around enough and surely you’ll find something that can entertain for an hour or two. A few weeks ago I spent my Saturday and Sunday in our bedroom, watching as many movies as possible that included the word Fury in the title.I browsed Netflix’s watch instantly, searching, searching. It’s an ego thing.
There was The Fury from Brian De Palma. I caught Shadow Fury, a 2001 movie starring Pat Morita. The plot?
Expelled from his research group by his colleagues, mad scientist Dr. Oh uses his knowledge of human cloning and mind control to create Takeru, the ultimate ninja warrior.
I passed on Blanche Fury, a 1948 film about a governess and a mistress and other people I didn’t have any interest in watching. Same with A Day of Fury, a 1956 classic about a “by-the-book marshal charged with keeping order in a small western town who is tested when a gunslinger rides in and stirs up trouble among the locals.”
Did I watch Caged Fury with Erik Estrada, who “comes to the rescue of two innocent women wrongfully incarcerated in a rough lesbian-run prison and forced to be sex slaves for wealthy male visitors”? Yes. Of course. The film presented some scathing critiques about our penal system.
Where else could I get all of that? Unlike many subscribers, we also take full advantage of the physical DVDs, though there are, at times, complications. Anyone who subscribes to Netflix can tell stories of the DVDs they’ve had for weeks, if not months. A movie you thought sounded good when you put it in your queue six months earlier, but now that it finally arrived after it was 125th on the list, you’re just not in the mood for a period piece set during the latter days of the Revolutionary War.
I think I had Das Boot for three months before I finally watched it. Magnolia? About four months. It seems physically impossible to put these unwanted DVDs in the player. So they sit there, in their little white sleeve, although sometimes people don’t even take them out of the original packaging and the red envelope rests on a table, as hated as a third notice from a collection agency.
But those are still rare occurrences, and it’d be wrong to blame Netflix for my laziness. You can get a lot of what you want streaming and pretty much anything you want on the DVDs. With no late fees.
This week I’ll watch an old Hithcock movie called Notorious on DVD and this weekend I’ll stream the final few seasons of The Larry Sanders Show. And maybe I’ll look for Caged Fury 2.
Those 800,000 subscribers don’t know what they’re missing.