Why Netflix isn’t the Devil

Did you hear the news about Netflix?  Well, just in case you were caught up in the All-Star Game, the ongoing debate/posturing/negotiation/grandstanding about the debt ceiling, or maybe just couldn’t bring yourself to get out of bed after hearing the news that Snooki has a second book deal, I’ll fill you in.  Tuesday, Netflix announced that they’d be splitting their subscription model into two different payment plans, one for DVDs by mail and another for only streamed content.

The long and short of it is that yes, Virginia, if you’re a customer that streams old episodes of “Blue Clues” or that Korean film from 2003, well, you’re going to pay more for that very soon.

As you can probably guess, the internets, in an unprecedented (and slightly disturbing) display of unity, immediately exploded with an unruly display of lamentations, threats, and wails of unfairness.  You know, because that evil content distribution company was stealing from them, all the sudden.

Although, you know what?  Netflix isn’t stealing from anyone.  And everyone who wants to cry about it should stop complaining.

The thing is that the company has been allowing users to stream TV shows and movies over the internet for something like four years now, and has barely charged anyone anything for it.  Remember when you first signed up for Netflix?  Back when it was just a cool DVD mailing service that let you watch as many movies a month as you wanted for one low price?  Not $5.99 for that new release pay-per-view, but $7.99 all freaking month.  Remember how it killed Blockbuster and all the other video rental stores in your ‘hood?  Well, except for that sketchy one that only ever has the same 8 three year-old movies on hand.  Yes, the place that constantly manned by a guy named “Stretch” who suddenly loses interest in you the minute you ask about a video.

What everyone crying foul should keep in mind is that no one likes Netflix.  Hollywood and production companies don’t like Netflix because they’re accustomed to a world where they get paid for Ever. Single. Viewing of their content.  And the internet companies don’t like Netflix because subscribers routinely suck up the bandwidth equivalent of Boise, Idaho every time a new movie or show becomes available.  Oh, and most of those internet companies, by the way, double as your in-home entertainment provider, who are none to happy to see their pay-per-view movie offerings suddenly ignored because the latest movie full of angsty teenagers and sparkly vampires is coming in the mail for one low price.

What that means is that if Netflix is going to be making a metric Ark full of money every month from single-fee subscriptions that are sucking down DVDs and streamed video faster than Snooki does shots in a room full of guidos, those companies are going to make sure they get their cut.  If that’s the way it’s going to have to be in order for you to get your entertainment, is it too much to ask you to shoulder the burden a little as well?  We are, after all, the consumers, right?  Aren’t those the people that usually pay for the stuff being, you know, consumed?

Now, lest you think I’ve suddenly become some PR flack for Netflix, let me assure you I’m not universally thrilled with the announcement.  If they’re going to separate their subscriptions, I think they could have done a little better than charge the same amount for both the DVD and streaming plans considering we’re not talking about the same catalog of content.  The latest and greatest movies and shows in the world are usually not available to stream for quite a while.  So I think a lower cost on that plan is both reasonable and might have gone a long way towards making users less likely to throw a rolling-on-the-floor-while-screaming fit, toddler-style.  It also would have helped ease us all into the idea of paying for our downloaded media.

That aside, look, I realize that everyone has gotten comfortable with being able to sit on their respective couches in a bathrobe and stay-home underwear with a liter of Old Crow and a pile of Pringle crumbs on their chests while watching an entire season of “The Tudors”.  It’s incredibly convenient to be able to stream that precious signal without having to bear the shame of shuffling into a video store for something new to watch at 11 pm with a 3 day-old beard and food-stained shirt.  We’ve all been there.  I just think maybe paying a little more for that convenience, which has largely been free for years, isn’t such an unreasonable request.

So, maybe put down the pitchforks?