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why i broke up with netflix
the beginning of the end
by joe procopio (@jproco)
pop culture

So I dumped Netflix a couple days ago. It wasn’t much of a big deal. The woman on the other end of the line was very understanding, somewhat apologetic, and even a little cheerful throughout the entire ordeal, which lasted maybe 90 seconds.

Although I like to imagine she slammed the phone down and then went on her break to hatch an elaborate plan to stalk me and eventually win me back.

With poetry.

But it didn’t go down like that at all. There were no histrionics. And conversely, I didn’t go out in a blaze of rage. Deep in my heart-of-hearts, I still love Netflix, and I’m already going through withdrawal.

Maybe, once all this blows over, we’ll end up together again when I realize I can’t live without the comfort of having movies to come home to every night.

Sure, We Had Our Problems

Look, I’m not going to sit here and act like it wasn’t the price increase. It was definitely the price increase. But it wasn’t just that. I didn’t break up with Netflix to make a statement.

I did it because I realized that, ultimately, we’re doomed.

Well, Netflix is doomed. I’ll be fine.

Jumping the Shark

The price increase that went into effect yesterday is a huge problem for Netflix, but not in the way you might think. Ultimately, the service is still worth the price, but a 50% hike for people of my account status couldn’t have come at a worse time.

If the price bump was the cart, the selection of movies available for streaming was the horse. Netflix has always spoiled us by consistently delivering more than what we felt we deserved. So when they announced the price increase, and then the selection of movies available for streaming somehow got even worse, including Starz announcing yesterday that they're pulling their content in 2012, they ultimately triggered their own commoditization, thus opening up the door for whatever is next.


It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or much research to realize exactly how fickle consumers of entertainment media are. Furthermore, nowhere is the tale more cautionary than that of home movie and television delivery.

This has all happened before…

First Love

I go all the way back to the 1980s on this. My Dad had the foresight to buy a VCR when they first hit the broad consumer market, so by the time the first Mom and Pop video rental store opened up a town away, I had already been waiting for something like it.

And much like the moment after a first date, suddenly all my behavior changed. The primary purpose of our VCR instantly went from recording television shows to watching rented movies. Thanks to our local video store, I could select from hundreds of titles, take them to the comfort of my own home, and eat and drink whatever I wanted while I watched.

I was in love. And with all that in hand, what more could I possibly want?

The Dating Game

Eventually, you could pretty much rent movies anywhere. The convenience store down the street from my apartment had shelves full of rentals. Grocery stores had them. Pharmacies had them. Bait and tackle shops had them. Everyone wanted my attention.

Now I didn’t have to bother making a special trip to the video store, and if I couldn’t find the movie I wanted in one place, there was a good chance they had it at the other. Competition drove rental prices down even further. Loyalty went out the window. Goodbye local video store, hello whatever happened to by close by.

I had options. So with all that in hand, what more could I possibly want?

The One That Got Away

I started going to Blockbuster because they guaranteed I could go home with a new release that night. Since it was also expensive, at first I only went to Blockbuster for said new releases.

But soon, everyone else became an afterthought. Blockbuster was the clear winner in the ensuing video rental wars, either out-pricing, out-selecting, or out-location-ing their competition. And make no mistake, Blockbuster, in its heyday, was ultra sexy.

So what if I now had to go back to making that special trip to the video store? This was the perfect video store. Blockbuster’s selection was broad and diverse, they almost always had the movie I wanted in stock (or I got it free), it was easy and painless, and they were everywhere.

It was perfection. So with all that in hand...

Long Term Commitment

Netflix had been around for a while, always trying to get me to just give it a second look, but it took 24 long hours to get the movie I wanted. So at first, much like how I started with Blockbuster, I only went to Netflix for new releases.

But you know what happened? Blockbuster started getting all weird on me. The words “return it anytime” went straight to the heart of Blockbuster’s bottom line, and in a foolish attempt to try to replicate that ability, Blockbuster kept changing their rental periods, rental rates, and late fees several times over.

All of a sudden, 24 hours wasn’t such a long wait. When streaming was offered as part of the Netflix service, it just made Blockbuster’s attempts to be like Netflix look sad and pathetic.

Now I don’t even rent movies, I Netflix them, a branded term that means both receiving a DVD in the mail and viewing via the streaming service. Genius. Just about any movie I want at my door in 24 hours, and a whole bunch of second rate stuff I can check out right now. Why didn’t I notice all this before?

It was a partnership. So with all that…

The Rebound

Look, Redbox is not the answer. It is, to use another branded term, a Band-Aid. The same goes for Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, Walmart, and all of the other competitors springing up Netflix-like around Netflix.

Once Redbox started popping up everywhere and then launched a mobile app, I started trying them out. However, in the exact same way I started with both Blockbuster and Netflix, I’m only using them for new releases. Now I no longer have to wait 24 hours to see the movie I want to see.

Just like old times!

My cable company’s On Demand service has gotten more broad and a little less expensive. Unlike Netflix (and Redbox), On Demand movies are available the same day the DVD hits the stores. Now if there’s a movie I really want to see immediately, I no longer have to consider the long term commitment of buying it.

All the web-based services have different options for television shows and second rate movies. It’s not near as deep as Netflix, but …

What Am I Really Missing?

The only types of movies and television shows remaining are those I would watch out of nostalgia, curiosity, or discovery. In any of those cases, this is not stuff I would seek out. This is stuff I might queue up if I happen by it.

But I wouldn’t say I’m missing it, Bob.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s just me and my romantic tale, right? Your story is different. You can’t even dream of a world where you don’t have Netflix.

But look at Blockbuster. Before they created the market for watching exactly the movie I wanted to watch exactly when I wanted it for three bucks for two nights, that market didn’t exist. Once it went away, I didn’t miss it, thanks to a fledgling service that allowed me to use the Internets to send DVDs directly to my mailbox.

Even though I’ve had to change my habits a bit, I’m not missing Netflix. If that continues for, say, a couple weeks, then it’s safe to say that I just don’t need it anymore.

So why drag it out?

For the kids?

Yeah. Maybe. They’ve been screaming at me since I cancelled.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

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katherine (aka clevertitania)
9.2.11 @ 3:01p

I didn't hear Starz pulled out, and I haven't noticed a significant decrease in their on-demand yet either, but now I'll be looking for it. For what we're getting right now, I was impressed with the price of their on-demand-only package.

But then again, we've only had one monopolizing cable company in this area for decades (though it's been bought/sold a few times) & their prices show it. So Netflix would have to lose a lot of movies to be less cost-effective than cable's on-demand services.

jeffrey walker
9.3.11 @ 7:35a

Netflix has been our primary video source for several years. We cut the expensive cable cord many years ago, and first got tons of dvds, and later, was getting streaming video and 5 dvds at a time for less than basic cable (awesome!). A few years later, paying the same only gets me 2 dvds and streaming. Still better than cable, who doesn't even offer basic anymore, but I am starting to get frustrated. If it keeps degrading, I may drop the monthly fee and just start buying tv / movies on itunes.


adam kraemer
9.6.11 @ 5:58p

I switched earlier this year to Netflix after concluding that paying for 4 premium cable channels that only offered something I wanted to see about 60% of the time just wasn't worth it.

As you say, I have been a bit disappointed with the streaming movie selections, though I do have quite a few movies in my queue (more so since I bought a WiFi-enabled Blu-ray player). And then I looked at the "view it again" list. Turns out it's just that I've seen nearly everything I wanted to already. Whoops.

joe procopio
9.15.11 @ 9:57a

Boom. From @TechCrunch: Netflix Releases Revised Subscriber Estimate, Stock Takes A Nosedive

The continuing justification for the price increase is a smokescreen. Regardless of what their intentions were, the streaming content is not robust enough to stand on its own, and certainly not robust enough to justify the price. Ultimately, people won't rush out to Redbox, Blockbuster, Hulu as a total replacement, but as a piecemeal replacement, and, like they have so many times before, change their viewing habits to accommodate.

I don't need to watch Weekend at Bernie's II a third time. The price increase just helped me figure that out.

joe procopio
9.19.11 @ 8:44a

Again from TechCrunch: Netflix Splits DVD And Streaming Businesses; Creates Qwikster For DVDs

Ignore for just a second that the name is horrible and the website has had issues existing this morning. By walling off DVD content under its own brand and site, Netflix is taking an enormous gamble that streaming will survive on its own before the content is there. And this forced and unnecessary next step just seems like taunting us non-believers.

Hastings said something in the article about companies never going under for moving too quickly, but they do go under for moving too slowly. Obviously, he missed that dot com thing.

adam kraemer
9.19.11 @ 12:17p

Did you see this?

joe procopio
9.19.11 @ 12:54p

Thanks, Adam. I read that when I read the TechCrunch piece. It isn't so much an apology as PR. An apology would be an immediate trial offer to those people who have left. Not that I'm asking for that or would take that. I've moved on.

However, the fact remains - and it's one he does not address - the content is not there to rebuild Netflix as a streaming service.

The split brings up other problems he is saying are "simple." Two accounts, two websites. In the internet subscription universe, that is huge.

jael mchenry
9.19.11 @ 8:30p

I have been relentlessly cheerful and loyal up til today, but splitting the service in two will make it dangerously easy for me to decide, not far down the line, that I could live without one of the two. Split them behind the scenes however you want, but don't make me deal with them separately. This one's a real headscratcher.

joe procopio
9.19.11 @ 8:51p

Don't scratch your head, instead read one of the... 18,979 comments left on Reed's blog post. All of them negative and, even more damning, hardly any with the internet wackjob comment vibe.

sarah ficke
9.20.11 @ 8:59a

What Jael said. One of the things I liked best about Netflix was that it gave me one place to find and queue stuff I wanted to watch, whether the format was dvd or streaming. I don't want to scurry all over the internet finding the videos I want in 7 different places. But I guess that's what the future of watching movies is now? Lame.

tracey kelley
9.20.11 @ 9:36a

Yep, an ideal business model shot to hell because of nothing more than greed: Netflix greed because incremental increases would have helped soften the blow and allow for gradual rollouts; partner greed because HBO and Starz and the like are saying, "Well, hey, we should do this streamy-thing!" and pulled the plug on the collaboration.

So - we're keeping the DVD service (for now) but dropping the streaming and will adapt to the scurry, if necessary.


erik myers
9.20.11 @ 10:45a

I really don't think it's greed. I think it's incompetence and a complete lack of understanding of the market.

There's a huge disconnect between the content providers and the content consumers. What providers like HBO and Starz don't get is that people don't want to sign up for 9 services, they want to sign up for 1 that works.

I look back at the beginning of iTunes often, because it shows just how clueless so much of the content provider market is. There was this enormous mish mash of crap on the internet and 1,000 illegal ways to get music, then Apple did the thing that would make them ultimately successful:

They made it easy and cheap to get music legally online. Bam. They are instant gajillionaires.

(Huh, there's a character limit on these posts? Who knew?)

erik myers
9.20.11 @ 10:49a

Netflix was on their way to doing this and got bogged down by their content providers, who have no idea the economy of scale that could be produced by actually offering their content correctly. Netflix had the system down but couldn't get the content providers in line. At the end of the day everybody's going to get hurt from it and Netflix handled it just... horribly. What a bizarre business move.

Also, the guy who owns the Qwikster Twitter handle couldn't be more perfect.

tracey kelley
9.20.11 @ 11:02a

Oh, I agree with all you've said, but the bottom line is still a bit greedy. After all, Netflix could have been the iTunes of video with a little forethought, and the content providers would have realized the value in time of using Netflix as a conduit, just like music companies did with iTunes.

Focus on the core competencies of content development and pay someone else to handle distribution. In theory, that's all this is. After all, Random House may try to sell books on its site, but it doesn't pull its publishing list from Amazon.

joe procopio
9.21.11 @ 8:23a

Today, Netflix sent me a heartwarming email asking me to come back to Netflix and, as their way of saying they were sorry and they missed me, they offered me the exact same streaming catalog I left for the exact same price everyone else is paying.

Qwikster remains silent and, frankly, standoffish towards me.

tracey kelley
10.10.11 @ 10:46a

Today, I received this:

It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.

This means no change: one website, one account, one password…in other words, no Qwikster.

While the July price change was necessary, we are now done with price changes.

We're constantly improving our streaming selection. We've recently added hundreds of movies from Paramount, Sony, Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, MGM and Miramax. Plus, in the last couple of weeks alone, we've added over 3,500 TV episodes from ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, USA, E!, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Discovery Channel, TLC, SyFy, A&E, History, and PBS.

We value you as a member, and we are committed to making Netflix the best place to get your movies & TV shows.


The Netflix Team

joe procopio
10.10.11 @ 11:00a

I'm not hating. This is a step in the right direction. Still not worth the price though.

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