Monday, September 19, 2011

The great Netflix implosion

Kim and I had switched to Netflix Instant and dropped our disc rental service a couple of months back. I ultimately prefer the old school brick and mortar feel of going into Vulcan Video or I Luv Video for shopping and, after being another victim of Netflix throttling program, Redbox for just picking up a new release on the fly.

So we weren't significantly affected by big breakup.

I may even have posted this video on Facebook.

Really? Does no one have anything better to worry about?

Yeah, losing the Starz at the same time was a weird blow to come at the same time, especially for mainstream people looking mostly for new releases.

For me, there were a ton of Blue Underground, Raro Video and such that suddenly appeared. Frankly, for we who enjoy unusual movies, Netflix Instant is filled with treats. Not quite as often as I like the exact movie I want, but there's stuff for every mood I can imagine... and I can imagine a lot.

Not to mention, I expected there was something else up their sleeve that we'd hear about before Starz went away. Presumably a big fish that would keep everyone interested until all memories of this public relations mess were all but gone.

Let's face it, Netflix Instant is in the studios best interest in the long term. Something like it will be what we all turn to eventually.

Yeah, they're being grumpy now, imagining their own service or whatever, but a single one-stop streaming service is what will eventually work out, because it only makes sense. If studios don't come down to agreeing on that somehow, they'll be reminded that torrent sites have all of each of their movies in one place.

I don't mean a threat or a value judgment there, just a basic notation of how things work.

And Netflix remains the only company significantly poised to create that single-shop location.

So me, sitting back, expecting Netflix to make a significant announcement and jump back, and what happens?

An Explanation and Some Reflections by Reed Hastings.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

I expected it to break into If you borrowed my brain for five seconds, you’d be like, "Dude! Can’t handle it, unplug this bastard! It fires in a way that’s maybe not from, uh… this terrestrial realm."

He says things like "nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD", which is insultingly false. Anyone who knows anything about movies know that's insultingly false, but then Hastings has always shown open disdain for actual movie fans... see "throttling" reference above.

He was ostensibly apologizing for company "arrogance" and how it inconvenienced customers, and still can't help slipping in an arrogant inconvenience. Seriously, two websites? Alright... I guess. They don't connect? Seriously? I have to choose or rate and review and check the availability twice?

A host of opinions have come. I think this post by Dan Solomon captures the dichotomy, although I'm not entirely sure I think his comparison to the services as "selling sandwiches and, I dunno, deep-dish pizza" works better than sandwiches and meat. I think there's a middle-ground menu metaphor out there waiting to be nailed down.

Now, for me, I'd already been relatively satisfied with giving up the disc service, but the lack of integration pretty much cemented it. The ridiculous name Qwikster only pissed on the spot where that possibility was buried.

But then Qwikster is merely poised for "Qwik Sale", isn't it? Presumably the new owners will rebrand it, and may want one of the potentially decent alternative names. That also explains why it's an advantage to take away the integration between the sites, which otherwise seems like putting an extra effort to inconvenience customers.

Look, I've worked in Customer Service. I know how goddamn stupid the thing about making the customer feel like you care is. I can't fucking believe it's true... and yet come down to it, it's true, and true for me too.

Really, it's been less than a day and I'd probably switch to their competition, if they had any competition that seems poised to take my business.

And that is why Hastings doesn't mind pissing on your leg while he pretends to apologize. That is why he especially doesn't care about pissing straight in the face of actual movie geeks.

Let's face it, we can gripe, but Netflix has most of us by the balls for now.

For instance, I have to finish The Italian Connection on Netflix Instant.

UPDATE: I also recommend Why it’s Incredibly Stupid for Netflix to Split into Two Companies by E.D. Kain, which takes most of the same positions I took, including agreeing with the earlier decision to split service. I wonder how long until we see if this backlash has an effect.

And what will it be? Will Netflix successfully dump off Qwikster on a buyer ready to rebrand and try turn it back into a company people feel positive toward or will Netflix try to backstep, having managed to alienate a significant number of the very people who agreed with their original decision, even if we understood it wasn't handled as well as it could have been.

UPDATE II: Also The Qwikster and the Dead by Megan McArdle, "So I understand that Netflix was in a bad place. But I don't understand how Qwikster solves any of these problems."

UPDATE III: My e-mail from Reed: Netflix "apologizes," pulls a Qwikster by Jim Emerson, "But here's what you still don't seem to understand: You don't announce price hikes now at the same time you promise vague improvements in service at some point in the indefinite future. You don't trumpet the formation of a new company/division without showing -- right now -- how that new label improves on what you've been offering in the past. In other words, don't expect money for nothing. Or, worse, less."

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