Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why I'm Not Mad at Netflix

My initial reaction to the news of a sixty percent rate hike by Netflix was to be just as pissed off as so many of their other customers have shown themselves to be. Considering that prices increased slightly just a couple of months ago, spurring me to reduce my plan back from two DVDs at a time to one, the idea that the new prices were already set to more than double proved really frustrating, even if the original cost was an almost too-good-to-be-true value for the quantity of entertainment it offered. But long after Google, Yahoo!, and a conversation with a friend had all broken the news to me, I got the e-mail from Netflix, and I ended up actually being rather happy with the company. It’s not so simple as them just raising prices; they’ve actually done something I’d been wishing they would do for ages.

The message cut right to the chase:
“We are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into two separate plans to better reflect the costs of each. Now our members have a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan, or both.”

Finally! Granted, it’s still a substantial increase overall, but it is nice to know that when I change to one of the new plans, I will only be paying for a service that I’m particularly keen to use. It is, however, not lost on me that this move on their part is another in an ongoing series of efforts to push people towards online streaming only. I’ll be dropping that part of my plan.

I have a personal appreciation for delayed gratification that seems all too rare in others. I like to decide on what will be the next film I’ll be watching, and then to wait a two or three days to receive it. I like the regularity, and sometimes take it almost as a ritual. I use the online streaming feature occasionally, but I consciously try to avoid it when it comes to the viewing of films that I have listed on my queue, attach some significance to, and am truly looking forward to watching. I don’t like the idea of having everything I want immediately available to me at the touch of a button. It causes those things to lose a sense of significance, even a sense of reality.

I much prefer to slip a compact disc out of an envelope, set it into its slot and watch it feed into the DVD player before the screen comes to life and the film asks me to sit and engage with it for a couple of hours. Having a physical copy of the disc delivered to my home gives me the sense that when I collect the mail on a given day, and there’s a red envelope there, it’s movie night, that there’s something that’s asking me to give it my attention, rather than the other way around. And when the film comes to an end, the DVD keeps whirring, inviting me to learn more about the production and what was cut from the story, if I think it’s worthwhile. I don’t have that option and I usually don’t feel that sense of connection when I stream video, an act that usual comes of the passive experience of just feeling like watching something, not the acute awareness that there’s something to be observed.

I use the streaming feature from time to time, but it’s usually just because I don’t have any entertainment to accompany my dinner, so I put on a random episode of Mythbusters, or because I particularly need stress relief at the end of the night, and find it with an old Mystery Science Theater 3000 feature. But in these sorts of cases, I freely admit that my choice of entertainment comes from a sense of entitlement that I’d rather not have. I want something, but I don’t think it’s important enough to wait for.

I’d rather wait. So I’m actually quite happy that Netflix is raising its prices. If I only want one movie at a time, I can actually be saving two dollars. And if I want a constant supply of entertainment and documentary education, I can pay a couple dollars more for two DVDs at a time, but still be saving over the option to keeping a service I don’t much use, really don’t want, and have always felt I was paying for unnecessarily.

It’s still a much higher price for the individual service, no doubt, but at least Netflix is finally giving me what I want for now. I worry, however, that the ploy will work and that when pressed by higher prices, customers will opt for convenience over quality. I worry that eventually Netflix will drop DVDs altogether, and then I’ll always be able to have what I want when I want it. I can’t think of anything I’d want less than that.

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