By Joe Procopio
So I dumped Netflix a couple days ago. It wasn’t much of a big deal. The woman on the other end of the line was very understanding, somewhat apologetic, and even a little cheerful throughout the entire ordeal, which lasted maybe 90 seconds.
Although I like to imagine she slammed the phone down and then went on her break to hatch an elaborate plan to stalk me and eventually win me back.
But it didn’t go down like that at all. There were no histrionics. And conversely, I didn’t go out in a blaze of rage. Deep in my heart-of-hearts, I still love Netflix, and I’m already going through withdrawal.
Maybe, once all this blows over, we’ll end up together again when I realize I can’t live without the comfort of having movies to come home to every night.
Sure, We Had Our Problems
Look, I’m not going to sit here and act like it wasn’t the price increase. It was definitely the price increase. But it wasn’t just that. I didn’t break up with Netflix to make a statement.
I did it because I realized that, ultimately, we’re doomed.
Well, Netflix is doomed. I’ll be fine.
Jumping the Shark
The price increase that went into effect on September 1 is a huge problem for Netflix, but not in the way you might think. Ultimately, the service is still worth the price, but a 50 prcent hike for people of my account status couldn’t have come at a worse time.
If the price bump was the cart, the selection of movies available for streaming was the horse. Netflix has always spoiled us by consistently delivering more than what we felt we deserved. So when they announced the price increase, and then the selection of movies available for streaming somehow got even worse, , including Starz announcing last week that they’re pulling their content in 2012, they ultimately triggered their own commoditization, thus opening up the door for whatever is next.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or much research to realize exactly how fickle consumers of entertainment media are. Furthermore, nowhere is the tale more cautionary than that of home movie and television delivery.
This has all happened before…
I go all the way back to the 1980s on this. My Dad had the foresight to buy a VCR when they first hit the broad consumer market, so by the time the first Mom and Pop video rental store opened up a town away, I had already been waiting for something like it.
And much like the moment after a first date, suddenly all my behavior changed. The primary purpose of our VCR instantly went from recording television shows to watching rented movies. Thanks to our local video store, I could select from hundreds of titles, take them to the comfort of my own home, and eat and drink whatever I wanted while I watched.
I was in love. And with all that in hand, what more could I possibly want?
The Dating Game
Eventually, you could pretty much rent movies anywhere. The convenience store down the street from my apartment had shelves full of rentals. Grocery stores had them. Pharmacies had them. Bait and tackle shops had them. Everyone wanted my attention.
Now I didn’t have to bother making a special trip to the video store, and if I couldn’t find the movie I wanted in one place, there was a good chance they had it at the other. Competition drove rental prices down even further. Loyalty went out the window. Goodbye local video store, hello whatever happened to by close by.
I had options. So with all that in hand, what more could I possibly want?
The One That Got Away
I started going to Blockbuster because they guaranteed I could go home with a new release that night. Since it was also expensive, at first I only went to Blockbuster for said new releases.
But soon, everyone else became an afterthought. Blockbuster was the clear winner in the ensuing video rental wars, either out-pricing, out-selecting, or out-location-ing their competition. And make no mistake, Blockbuster, in its heyday, was ultra sexy.
So what if I now had to go back to making that special trip to the video store? This was the perfect video store. Blockbuster’s selection was broad and diverse, they almost always had the movie I wanted in stock (or I got it free), it was easy and painless, and they were everywhere.
It was perfection. So with all that in hand…
Long Term Commitment
Netflix had been around for a while, always trying to get me to just give it a second look, but it took 24 long hours to get the movie I wanted. So at first, much like how I started with Blockbuster, I only went to Netflix for new releases.
But you know what happened? Blockbuster started getting all weird on me. The words “return it anytime” went straight to the heart of Blockbuster’s bottom line, and in a foolish attempt to try to replicate that ability, Blockbuster kept changing their rental periods, rental rates, and late fees several times over.
All of a sudden, 24 hours wasn’t such a long wait. When streaming was offered as part of the Netflix service, it just made Blockbuster’s attempts to be like Netflix look sad and pathetic.
Now I don’t even rent movies, I Netflix them, a branded term that means both receiving a DVD in the mail and viewing via the streaming service. Genius. Just about any movie I want at my door in 24 hours, and a whole bunch of second rate stuff I can check out right now. Why didn’t I notice all this before?
It was a partnership. So with all that…
Look, Redbox is not the answer. It is, to use another branded term, a Band-Aid. The same goes for Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, Walmart, and all of the other competitors springing up Netflix-like around Netflix.
Once Redbox started popping up everywhere and then launched a mobile app, I started trying them out. However, in the exact same way I started with both Blockbuster and Netflix, I’m only using them for new releases. Now I no longer have to wait 24 hours to see the movie I want to see.
Just like old times!
On Demand service has gotten more broad and a little less expensive. Unlike Netflix (and Redbox), On Demand movies are available the same day the DVD hits the stores. Now if there’s a movie I really want to see immediately, I no longer have to consider the long term commitment of buying it.
All the web-based services have different options for television shows and second rate movies. It’s not near as deep as Netflix, but …
What Am I Really Missing?
The only types of movies and television shows remaining are those I would watch out of nostalgia, curiosity, or discovery. In any of those cases, this is not stuff I would seek out. This is stuff I might queue up if I happen by it.
But I wouldn’t say I’m missing it, Bob.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s just me and my romantic tale, right? Your story is different. You can’t even dream of a world where you don’t have Netflix.
But look at Blockbuster. Before they created the market for watching exactly the movie I wanted to watch exactly when I wanted it for three bucks for two nights, that market didn’t exist. Once it went away, I didn’t miss it, thanks to a fledgling service that allowed me to use the Internets to send DVDs directly to my mailbox.
Even though I’ve had to change my habits a bit, I’m not missing Netflix. If that continues for, say, a couple weeks, then it’s safe to say that I just don’t need it anymore.
So why drag it out?
For the kids?
Yeah. Maybe. They’ve been screaming at me since I cancelled.
Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for tech media startup StatSheet. He also owns consulting firm Intrepid Company and creative network Intrepid Media and runs the startup social ExitEvent. Joe can be reached via Twitter @jproco (www.twitter.com/jproco) and read at joeprocopio.com.
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