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In Defense of Netflix

Wow! It's amazing how quickly Netflix has gone from popular to pariah - all over six bucks a month. Yeah, I know, it's a 60 percent increase and times are hard, etc. etc. But at the risk of having to enter witness protection, I'm going to argue that people are wildly overreacting to Netflix's price increase.

In Defense of Netflix
Thousands upon thousands of outraged customers (and newly former customers) have stormed the Netflix blog and Facebook page, accusing the company of money-grubbing, promising mass defections and dissing the service in general. By this afternoon, the Web will likely agree that Netflix is at fault for the federal deficit.

The vitriol is all because of the company's announcement yesterday of a new pricing structure. People like me (and apparently there are a lot of them) who pay $10 a month to have one disc at a time and stream as much video as they want will now have to pay $16 a month for the same level of service. Of course, if you're like me and you seldom get around to watching - or returning - your one physical disc and mostly stream video instead, you can switch to a streaming-only plan and actually save a couple bucks a month.

But let's say you're not like me and you want to stick with both streaming video and getting discs in the mail. Yes, you'll end up paying significantly more - maybe too much (I wouldn't be surprised if Netflix bows to the pressure soon and amends this plan). But I think it's clear that even if this increase is too much, Netflix doesn't deserve the hostility it's receiving.

Remember the Bad Old Days

First off, let's remember why so many people are Netflix customers to begin with. The company literally freed us from the oppressive tyranny of video late fees. Speaking of six bucks, how many times before Netflix's arrival did you pay Blockbuster six bucks because you forgot for a couple of days that "Weekend at Bernie's" was on the backseat of your car?

Let's also remember how streaming video started on Netflix. You didn't have to sign up for a new plan, you didn't have to pay an extra fee. The company just started offering streaming movies and TV shows as an addition to your existing discs-by-mail account. It was the corporate equivalent of "Hey, try out this cool new thing. Hope you like it."

One of the themes of the Web's discontent with this price change is that the selection for Netflix's Watch Instantly service sucks. Netflix won't get our $8 a month for streaming video, the critics say, until it's got the new releases of the latest blockbusters and box office champs. To which I can only say, "Really?" To think that you can get a month's worth of unlimited viewing of "The Adjustment Bureau," "Cedar Rapids" or whatever the latest hits are for less than a single ticket to a movie theater indicates that you're just not paying attention to how the entertainment industry works.

A Full Queue

And maybe I'm a video slut (though I prefer the term video adventurer), but I've got 500 titles in my Watch Instantly queue and they're all things that I or someone in my family actually wants to watch. Sure, you'll seldom see a recent comic book blockbuster offered for streaming. But the fact is many of those movies suck. And some of the best movies - indie films, foreign classics, and documentaries - are available for instant viewing.

Here's another way of looking at that extra six bucks a month: It's virtually a rounding error on my Comcast bill. I pay more than that in mystery fees and taxes each month for my Comcast Triple Play service. But my family spends at least as much time streaming Netflix video as they do watching live cable stations. (You're probably thinking I should cancel my cable subscription. Trust me, I'm considering it.)

In Defense of Netflix
Perhaps none of these arguments sway you. After all, we've all got different ideas of value, especially when it comes to entertainment. But I'd still argue that you shouldn't go all medieval on Netflix. ("Pulp Fiction" - available for instant viewing!) Why? Because the company has a history of looking out for its customers in ways that are almost unheard of. I remember getting an email from Netflix after a video I had streamed had a hiccup. The email apologized for the glitch and offered me a rebate on my next bill. All I had to do was click a link to claim my money. When was the last time you got money that easily from Time Warner, AT&T, or Verizon?

In Defense of Netflix

So maybe $16 a month really is more than you think Netflix is worth. In that case, it makes sense to quit the company. But I'd lay off calling them evil, money-sucking scum. I just don't think it's fair.

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