Dino Londis: Netflix Lost the Plot

Netflix seems determined to shoot itself in the foot. How else can you explain why it’s in talks with major cable providers. This company, says our commentator Dino Londis, is floundering big time.

Netflix seems determined to shoot itself in the foot. How else can you explain why it’s in talks with major cable providers?

At one point, Netflix seemed poised to achieve every entertainment junkie’s dream of getting any show or movie, any time. It was tantalizingly close. I can watch a “Twilight Zone,” or “Faulty Towers” on Netflix. But I can’t watch the “Bob Newhart Show.” In fact until recently, more than 100 “Twilight Zones” were listed. Now there are just about 30. The “Bob Newhart Show” has never been available, though it is available by mail.

It’s become my rule of thumb that if I want to see a movie, Netflix won’t stream it. That may not be true for you, but I can almost correctly guess what streams on Netflix and what must be mailed just based on my rule. “Harold and Maude,” for example, is available by mail. But it won’t stream. And don’t even think about Steve McQueen in “Bulitt.”

I don’t know Netflix’s policy or reason for retracting content — we’ve contacted Netflix for comment — but the whole notion of removing is counterintuitive at best. To survive and thrive, Netflix must work toward licensing and adding streaming content to build a better product.  Why not add indie films or series that the networks reject, too?

Instead it considers partnering with major cable companies to create a channel — as executive office Reed Hastings sees it — similar to HBO.

That tells me that Netflix doesn’t know why it’s successful. I have HBO and I have Netflix. I need both because they are so different. I don’t need another HBO. What I do need is an alternative to what my local cable company offers.

First of all, the set top box interface for my New Jersey Comcast service is circa 1999. To put another layer like Netflix on that would absolutely kill it. The Netflix interface isn’t perfect on my Wii, but it’s positively dreamy next to my Comcast-issued Scientific Atlantic Explorer 8300HD, the one we’ve nicknamed “Click and Wait.”

Besides, Comcast already provides on-demand content. Any overlap of Comcast and Netflix would make me question why I’m buying two services for the same product. Conversely, because shows and movies are now coming from the same pipe, any choice by a viewer to choose a Comcast on-demand product over Netflix will devalue the latter. If fewer people are streaming from Netflix than before the partnership, the publicly-traded company would again lose value.

Just a year ago, many thought of Netflix as almost in the same vein as Amazon — a progressive, inventive company offering alternative methods to deliver entertainment. But, while Amazon went on to introduce the Amazon Kindle Fire, a successful low-cost tablet/e-reader/Amazon shopping cart, Netflix has floundered. In just a few months, it splintered into Flixster, raised its price without improving content, lost 800,000 customers and then dropped Flixter.

To partner with a provider that had pushed me to use Netflix in the first place, tells me Netflix doesn’t know its purpose for being. Sad.

1 Comment

  • Having been on the other side as a content provider for streaming companies a couple of years ago, I know that divvying up the pie leaves little revenue for the middle man. Subscriptions allow an ad-free streaming experience but content providers much prefer to rent DVDs which bring in more revenue. The practice of taking down a movie that was available a few weeks ago is an effort to condition viewers to return — and hopefully watch another show.
    As a user I am stuck between the convenience of watching a not-so great movie right away or going to the local kiosk to pick up a DVD. There’s a lot of room for improvement for improving the content available for streaming services.