Streaming-Only Service Reveals Netflix's Shortcomings

It's official: Netflix sees itself as "primarily a streaming video company," says co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings. To drive the point home, the home entertainment provider is now offering an $8 monthly plan in the U.S. that lets you stream all the movies you want. (Netflix debuted its streaming-only deal in Canada earlier this year.)

While the move signals the beginning of the end for DVD and Blu-ray--a slow death, perhaps, but the countdown has begun--Netflix fans should think twice before signing up for the streaming-only plan.

Here's why: Netflix's online library is maddeningly incomplete. Want to watch Toy Story 3 or Avatar? You'd better sign up for one of Netflix's DVD + streaming plans, because those films are available on disc only. And it's not just new content that's off-limits to video streamers. Plenty of popular films from recent years, including Juno and The Dark Knight, are disc-or-miss titles, too.

Netflix's DVD plans with video-streaming range from $10 to $56 a month. The $10 plan, for instance, lets you have one DVD out at a time. You'll pay an extra $2 a month to watch Blu-ray discs.

I'm a Netflix subscriber and I love the service. But I'd find the streaming-only service too limiting.

Some TV series, such as Showtime's Dexter, have one or two seasons online--but later seasons are available on disc only. Fox's Family Guy has eight "volumes" online, but the eighth collection (from 2009) has only 7 episodes. You'll need the DVD to watch episodes 8 to 15.

Older shows have similar limitations. I'm a fan of the quirky 1970's detective series Columbo. Season one is available online-well, sort of. Five of nine episodes are stream-able. Want the rest? Get the DVD.

Netflix's all-you-can-stream deal is great for film and TV buffs, but it's incomplete and not ready to go it alone without a DVD accompaniment. For now, I'd rather pay an extra $2 per month to get the discs too.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci ) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com .

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