I’ve long had a love affair with Netflix. But perhaps more so than any other service, the relationship has changed over time. Not in a bad way, necessarily — it’s just different. And it’s different, because Netflix is different. It’s a service that keeps re-inventing itself.
That should be obvious to anyone paying attention. But it took this post by Felix Salmon to point out the obvious to me: in its transition to full-on streaming, Netflix is no longer about movies.
Said another way: Netflix has ramped up the “net” and wound down the “flix”.
Again, I don’t hate this, it’s just different. I originally joined Netflix in the early 2000s because I was a film buff. While the late 1990s found me buying just about every DVD I could get my hands on (including joining — shudder — Columbia House for DVDs), I quickly realized this was going to bankrupt the teenage me making minimum wage. Netflix seemed like a relative steal for my voracious movie appetite. I was probably one of those users who watched so many films that Netflix lost money on me. And I loved it.
Then something even more magical happened. The internet pipes got big enough to fit entire films streaming to us in real time. Netflix was finally fulfilling the “net” aspect of its name.1 Thanks to early deals with Starz and others, there were a ton of films — some good, some decent, some awful — that I could watch with the click of a button. This was obviously the future.
And now we’re living in that future. But it’s different than I thought it would be.
For awhile, Netflix was king when it came to film. Having vanquished a laughably feeble attempt by Blockbuster to copy their business — and later, having conquered all of Blockbuster itself — Netflix was more or less the only game in town. Yes, there were players like Apple and Microsoft and Big Cable which allowed users to purchase films on their various devices. But Netflix clearly had the winning model.
Then something weird happened. No, not Qwikster — though perhaps that should have been a sign of what was to come. Netflix started letting deals for feature films lapse and instead started amping up acquisitions of television show rights. From a pure time and addiction perspective, this makes sense for reasons both Salmon and Alexis Madrigal lay out. This led to where we are now: Netflix is more or less a television production house with syndicated television shows on the side.
Again, I don’t think that’s a bad thing — I love House of Cards. But it’s different from what Netflix was. Gone is the “flix”, enter the “Netshow”.
I am sad for the loss of films on Netflix. But Apple and others have stepped up their games in that regard. I do wonder if we’ll ever see another true streaming service for film — a Spotify for film, if you will — or if the business model, undoubtedly driven largely by Hollywood greed, simply doesn’t make sense.
Anyway, I’m fascinated by the fact that Netflix has significantly reinvented itself three times now. From a DVD-by-mail service, to a movie streaming service, to a television production/streaming service. I’m honestly not sure if such a business can withstand the full onslaught from Amazon. But I have no doubt that Netflix will find a way to evolve their business yet again, if needed.
Obviously, you would pick your films online for the by-mail service, but the streaming service seemed true “net”. ↩