Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Netflix - The Best Barely Acceptable Way to Rent Movies

Ahhhhh...those were the days.

In case you haven't heard, Netflix has completely changed their pricing structure, and unless you were already on the streaming-only bandwagon, you will have to pay more for what you currently get. That's the way of the world. Eventually things get more expensive. Netflix, naturally, is trying to spin it as their "cheapest option ever," and while, yes, $7.99/month is the cheapest they've ever made an unlimited disc rental plan, the fact still remains that last week you could pay $9.99 and get all that with unlimited streaming. If you sign up today, that same plan will cost you $15.98.

And again, I say, that is the way of the world. Inevitably, Netflix was going to have to raise their prices. Streaming is way too lucrative for studios to not ask Netflix for more money, so on one hand, saying this is a huge greedy pull on Netflix's part is some form of ignorance, willful or otherwise. I do think there is some truth to the cries of "greed" in HOW Netflix chose to raise their prices.

For the past 18+ months, Netflix has made it very clear that streaming is the future. They've so buried the fact that they're a DVD rental company that, even now, there is a question in their "how it works" section that reads, "Can I get DVDs by mail from Netflix?" It's in their "Other" section.

And this is where we start of have problems.

There's very little that's wrong with their instant streaming plans. They offer an enormous selection for a very reasonable price, and it just keeps getting better. Next year, they'll have an original TV series, House of Cards, produced by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey. Even if they bump it up to $9.99 by then (and I expect they will), it'll still be an unbelievable value for those of us who remember the dark days of spending $3-$4 per disc every time we wanted to rent a movie. Now I can barrel through a season of television over a weekend, or school myself on some classic silent cinema in a couple of nights. It's all right there.

But in the wake of this, Netflix's quality of service in their DVD (and especially their Blu-Ray department) has completely shit the bed, and they seem content (sometimes intent) on shutting down their DVD division, which would save them boatloads of money (think of the facilities and people they'd no longer have to pay for!). I would have no problem paying $15.98/month for streaming and discs if I was actually able to rent the movies I wanted to rent. The problem is, they're asking us to pay more for an increasingly dwindling service.

I resisted Netflix for a long time, and for a lot of reasons, finally signed up in September of 2007. The biggest one is that they had everything. I had recently started diving into the classics of foreign cinema, and their selection was overwhelming. And I adored and defended and celebrated their service vigorously over the last three years. When I like what I'm getting, I make sure people know about it. And equally, when that service declines, I have no problem turning right around on it.

The past year with Netflix has blown. They added an extra charge for Blu-Ray use - fine - but then stopped carrying many new Blu-Rays, especially of classic films. First the Criterion Collection got thrown under the bus, then I found I couldn't rent Bridge on the River Kwai, Fantasia, and many other great, classic titles being released in premium editions. They also started removing DVD titles from circulation altogether. The Tenant, avant-garde film collections, even Droopy cartoons for God's sake!

I've been slowly finding a way to break up with Netflix, and that started with a free trial to Blockbuster online, which doesn't have a perfect selection, but is light years ahead of where Netflix is now. So far I've rented Fantasia, Shock Corridor, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Blow Out, Amarcord, Insignificance, and People on Sunday. All on Blu-Ray. None of them were available on Netflix. And these are all very recent releases. I fully intended to cancel my subscription, as their base price of $11.99 was a little more than I could swing, and they instantly offered me the same plan at $8.99. Sold. No questions asked. I'm in the process of porting over my queue from Netflix, and have encountered very few instances in which I've had to let something go. I've encountered far instances in which I've been able to add discs I never had with Netflix.

And while I'm keeping Netflix for streaming purposes, I've also added Hulu Plus in as well, and I cannot recommend this highly enough. As an alternative to cable, it's been a dream, and with the addition of The Criterion Collection to their service, it's been like a jukebox of classic cinema - all my favorite hits, plus many I never would have discovered otherwise.

We live in a paradise for film fans these days, but only if there are services available to enable it. Blu-Ray offers far and away the best quality available, but Netflix seems content with delivering the lowest. And for those of us with the set-up and the passion for cinema, that's simply unacceptable. That they are now charging even more for a service that seems determined to only get worse is the final insult. I'm canceling my DVD plan with them (which I'm sure has been their plan all along...eventually so many people will cancel that they'll be able to shut down their DVD division under the guise of "insufficient consumer support"). I've said it before - I'd gladly pay $20 for one service that gives me everything (by which I mean a sizeable streaming option and every disc on the market), and I think a lot of other people would, too.

The latest move by Netflix doesn't surprise me in the least after seeing their service circle the drain for the last year. I am somewhat surprised that they think this is a viable business option. Streaming is the future - for now - but we've seen what happens when other companies put all their eggs in one basket. I'm especially thinking of Blockbuster's in-store service, which dispensed with classic movies in favor of nine hundred copies of whatever was new that week, which made a lot of sense for a long time. Until suddenly it didn't.

Admittedly, yes, I should cancel my streaming service in protest. Unfortunately, I'm too poor to seek another option. Trust me, if I could afford to shell out to rent movies as often as I stream them, I'd be gone in a heartbeat. But until then, my constantly fluctuating viewing requirements have created a need for Netflix Instant. And that's just the way they want it.

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