Archive - Sep 2011

September 20th


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Memo to Reed Hastings: YOUR PISS IS NOT GENTLE RAIN.

When Netflix announced its price hike a couple of months ago, I was cranky. I wasn't cranky about paying more. OK, technically, that's not true. I was cranky about paying more. But that's a personal crankiness. If Netflix wants to or needs to charge more for its services, that's fine. It's up to me, as the customer, to decide whether the new price is worth it, or for how long it's worth it, and make my purchasing decisions accordingly.

But what made me pissed was their amateurish, half-assed spin on it. Hike the prices for most of us, and me specifically, by 60%, fine. But be straight about it, even if you're lying. Cite economic necessity. Tell me that the studios want more money, so you either have to charge more or stream less. Don't fucking lie to me and tell me that you're actually saving people money, or giving us greater choice, or more flexibility, or really, any of the bullshit you inexpertly heaped upon us when you announced it.

People responded... poorly to the price hike announcement. Accounts were cancelled. Stock prices fell. So when I got a mass e-mail from Netflix honcho Reed Hastings in my inbox, and that e-mail started off contrite as fuck, I wondered if they'd learned their lesson. ACTUAL CONTRITION TIME!

"I messed up. I owe you an explanation. It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing."

OK. I'm not sure "respect" and "humility" are the correct adjectives here. I'd go with "a fucking clue" and "the public relations sense God gave Richard Nixon", but if I squint, I can pretend that's what Hastings meant. And they're going to do something! Recent history is rife with tech companies fucking up, then making good on their fuckup through some form of customer outreach. OK, go for it, Netflix!

"It’s hard to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to 'Qwikster'. We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name 'Netflix' for streaming."

Now, THAT'S more like it! Instead of paying $8 a month to Netflix for streaming, and paying another $8 a month to Netflix for DVDs, I get to... pay $8 a month to Netflix for streaming, then pay a separate company $8 a month for DVDs. A company that was clearly named using a 2002-era Tech Boom Name Generator, then re-spelled by three different marketing guys who had five free minutes on their way to lunch. So they're reshuffling. What are they doing for me, the user?

"DVD members will go to to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games... A negative of the renaming and separation is that the and websites will not be integrated... If you subscribe to both services you will have two entries on your credit card statement, one for Qwikster and one for Netflix."

Yay! I love video games! And once I pay the video game surcharge, plus up my discs-at-a-time to compensate for the fact that beating a videogame takes weeks and watching a DVD takes hours, I'll be paying what I could have been paying GameFly for, for the same service, for the past three years. All so the disc-by-mail service can be firewalled from the streaming service, presumably to protect one of them from the imminent failure of the other.

Again, this may be a perfectly valid and necessary move for Netflix. Or it might be a horrible mistake. I don't know. I don't run an international content delivery business, which means that a year from now, Reed Hastings and I might finally have something in common.

The point is, the price hike wasn't for us. The business split isn't for us. And yet, twice in a row, the geniuses at Netflix thought they'd try to sell these moves as being for us. And, in fact, are selling the split as being the EXPLANATION WE NEED to realize why the first move was really for us all along.

That is, in the vernacular, pissing on our head and telling us it's raining. It is fucking us over and then telling us we should be happy we're not getting the courtesy of a reacharound. I don't know who poured the mercury into the water coolers over there, but I wish they'd stop.

A year ago, if you'd asked me, I thought Netflix, along with Google and Apple and maybe Nintendo, was one of the companies that would rule us in a hopefully mostly benevolent manner until the Earth finally melted. They had brand-name recognition, a reputation for quality service, and were in at the ground floor of how we'll all be getting a shit-ton of our content in the future.

In the past year, if it does video, you can stream Netflix to it. Game console. Smart TV. Blu-Ray player. Roku box. Portable device. There are other video streaming services, but none had the penetration of Netflix. And now, to return the favor, Netflix is penetrating us.

We all know that eventually, sending us movies over the series of tubes will be the way to go, and it'll be harder and harder to make money sending obscure European thrillers on shiny discs through the mail. If Netflix wants us to associate the slow decline of that business model with a low-rent company with a ridiculous fucking name, so be it.

But if you're going to send us all an e-mail full of fucking lies, and end it with "Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust.", then I anxiously await a day when someone comes along to do what you do, only better and more honestly, and turns you into the next speed bump on the information superhighway.