Streaming Netflix

Via DRM Watch, Netflix to Offer Streaming Movies Online. My initial reaction: eh.

Netflix’s streaming service will differ from existing online movie services like those from Amazon, Movielink, and Apple iTunes. Those services offer rentals of movies for a fixed time period (e.g., 24 hours) or downloads-to-own, known in Hollywood jargon as ESL for Electronic Sell-Through. In contrast, Netflix will let users pick from a catalog of available films and let users watch any of them for up to a fixed number of hours per month, according to their subscriber level, such as six hours per month for entry-level subscribers. The service will launch with a catalog of about 1,000 titles, the same number as are available on Movielink’s rental service.

The video delivery scheme that Netflix is using is a streaming-only technology that senses the user’s Internet bandwidth and adjusts the video quality accordingly; thus it is analogous to RealNetworks’s Rhapsody music service.

Limiting the catalog to 1,000 titles undermines Netflix’s key selling point: enormous selection and a long-tail business model. I could probably find those same 1,000 titles at any Blockbuster Video. So all I’m saving is a trip down the street? In return, I get something I can only watch on my computer (with Windows) for a limited number of hours? Apparently, if I want to watch the same scene a few times, or with the director’s commentary (is that even available?), I’m using up my six hours per month.Even cable movies-on-demand is a better service.

Don’t get me wrong — I love Netflix as a DVDs-by-mail service. I also think the Netflix web interface and collaborative filter is pretty great, although the third-party Netflix Queue Manager Bookmarklet is a definite improvement. Based on this initial announcement, I can’t think of a single reason why I would prefer the online streaming version of Netflix. Usually I have the foresight to figure out what I want to say 24 hours in advance (the delivery time for Netflix-by-mail) and having three DVDs at once gives me sufficient options in case I’m unsure. Ultimately, I suspect Netflix just wants to send the message that it’s in the Internet-delivery market, which ultimately of course will decimate its existing business model. I just wish it had a more impressive first offering.