Just one geek's opinions and epiphanies

Netflix is out of their minds!


Rebranding is hard.  It is expensive, and it often causes more heartache than it stops. Netflix renaming their DVD by mail service as Qwikster is no exception.

Netflix's Reasons

On the Netflix blog Reed Hastings posts:

For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn't make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business. Eventually these companies realize their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover. Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.

The strange thing is that their own internal numbers show that they are doing well in the streaming industry already. They are mailing out an all time high of DVDs, and streaming more and more content everyday.  So is their DVD busy really getting left behind? No. Is there streaming business struggling to get started, no, is it struggling to become awesome? No.

One thing that really stood out to my in his blog post as just plain silly was the comment:

We feel we need to focus on rapid improvement as streaming technology and the market evolve, without having to maintain compatibility with our DVD by mail service.

I wasn't aware that setting up streaming technology would hinder the ability for the company to pack and mail DVDs. That is just an absurd wording to me.

Streaming Deals

Recently Netflix has lost their contract with Starz (a huge collection of their streaming content).  Honestly, I think the reason for the split is that Netflix is losing streaming deals left and right, and the reason is because of the DVD business. So if they separate the two companies they might be able to get more aggressive in their dealings with studios for rights to streaming.  Or possibly the other way around too, since their streaming and DVD businesses are in bed they can't find a way to fight through the 28 day window.

What's In a Name?

Qwikster is the name of the new Netflix spin off for DVDs, which doesn't really get the idea of what they do across. Not that Netflix screamed DVD rentals, but they got the name out there and branded it well. Infact I don't know many people who don't know what Netflix does from their name alone.

Qwikster was picked because:

We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery.

Apparently "Quick Delievery" was already taken? What is quickly delivered exactly? Perhaps instead of remaining in the DVD Rental business they are going to starting doing miscellaneous deliveries. Taking on UPS and FedEx maybe?

Poor choice in names, and explanations of the name.

What's Next?

Reed has already posted to the word his intentions. So I guess we will have to sit back and watch what happens, but I think we will see more confusion and less movement forward from both sides of Netflix is the short term. They are going to have to scramble even more than they already are to retain customers and to grow business.

Their next steps need to be to improving streaming quality and their streaming catalog. They need to take on Blockbuster and get their 28 day window removed.

Good Luck Reed, Good Luck Qwikster.

 

Update: I told you!

Netflix Streaming Needs a Fix


Streaming technologies have only continued to get better over time, and this is most evident with the fact that we have services like Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, and more that stream HD content through browsers and other means to our computers, gaming consoles, and even directly to TVs. I think these modern marvels alone are impressive, but when you add to the awesomeness that you can subscribe to stream unlimited movies at a fraction of the price of taking the whole family to a single showing of any movie at the theater this is a steal! Unless you streaming sucks, and everything is pixelated and crappy looking.

This weekend I spent a few hours streaming shows over Netflix and in the recent past I have watched movies from other services like Vudu. The point of this blog post is to create an open letter (more or less) to Netflix to call them to improve their streaming capabilities.

Vudu vs Netflix

Before I start down the path of comparing each service I want to note that where Netflix has a subscription based service. You pay a flat monthly fee for as many movies as you want. Vudu is a pay as you go service. A minimum of $2 per rental, for up to 2 days. That does not include HD or HDX which each cost more. We will get to that though.

Price

Because the first thing everyone is going to ask is what is the price comparison let's break it down.

Netflix (streaming only) is $7.99. Vudu starts at $2 a movie and goes up to $7 a movie. If you only watch 1-8 movies a month then Vudu is quite comparable. My family however, utilizing 9 devices (2 laptops, 2 Wiis, 2Xboxes, 3 Blu-ray players) could in theory stream 9 movies at a time each night for a high of 270 movies (and tv shows) a month. Realistically we watch 3 movies a week. That is still 12 movies a month as a low ball. So the pricing would be

  • Netflix - $7.99
  • Vudu - $24 - $2000 (270*7.99)

Obviously the Netflix option is best, right? Let's talk about releases.

New Releases

New releases is becoming a bit of a problem in Hollywood. Studios are keeping services like Redbox and Netflix from having DVDs for up to 28 days. However, companies like Blockbuster, and Vudu can have these same movies the day the DVD releases. I have a hard time discerning the difference between Blockbuster and Redbox, or between Netflix and Vudu except that the movie studios are obviously biased that subscription and dollar rentals are bad. More on this later too as I have a strong opinion about the entire thing.

So for new releases to stream to your house you are stuck waiting at least 28 days for Netflix (actually is is closer to 7 years*), where Vudu can stream it to you the same day. Note that these movies on Vudu are typically not at the $2/2day rate, and so you are looking at more like $6-7 for the rental.

Vudu wins**.

Streaming Quality

This is where Vudu shines, and why shouldn't they? They are charging the customer more money per movie than Netflix and so they can afford better streaming options. Hands down Vudu wins.

Although Netflix does a pretty good job most of the time there are times when the streaming quality sucks. I mean sucks. I was watching Doctor Who the other night and streaming was blocky, and choppy. This isn't everytime I watch a show/movie, and it isn't the whole movie. However it does happen and it really bugs the hell out of me.

Vudu on the other hand nails streaming. I've never had any visual lag, no pixelating, and never a stop to recalculate streaming. It has been crystal clear, picture perfect everytime.

Again Vudu wins, but at a price.

Wrap Up

I love the subscription plan with Netflix, but they need to fight for their right to stream new movies, and they need a better streaming setup. If you must watch a new movie or want a perfect picture then rent your movie on Vudu.

  • Netflix has really had a hard time negotiating streaming rights, most of the "newer" movies on Netflix are 7 years old, or older. There are exceptions, though few.

** Vudu in my mind has an unfair advantage, I'm not sure of the relationship with Hollywood, but I assume it is there.

Netflix + Wii = My Whole Home Covered!


So I have had the Xbox360 streaming my Netflix selections for a while now, and it was kind of annoying to have to move it to the living room if I wanted to watch a movie downstairs instead of in the comfort of my bed.  Well now I don't have to make such a decision.

No, I didn't get a Xbox360 for the living room, but now the Wii is getting streaming from Netflix! Here is a snipplet from the New York Times about it:

Nintendo is bringing Netflix’s online streaming video service to its Wii gaming console, the most popular in the industry, the companies plan to announce Wednesday. The service lets subscribers choose from a catalog of generally older movies and television shows and watch them instantly.

It sucks because the rumor is that you will have to use a disc to start the service (ala the PS3), which is sad since Nintendo has a market that in theory should be able to provide such a software sans-disc.

Furthermore I hope the rumors are wrong and the disc is a one time channel install. That would be acceptable in my mind. Otherwise watching videos on the Wii will still be cumbersome as I will have to protect another disc from the kids.

Update: You can now signup to be notified when the streaming disc is ready for Netflix @ https://www.netflix.com/NRDInfo/Wii

I'm such a fanboy today!


This week has been probably the best PR week in Zune and Xbox history! So now I am pretty much coming out and saying what everyone already knows about me.

I am a Microsoft Fanboy!

Zune 3.1

Tuesday Microsoft Zune launched version 3.1, more or less it was a minor update. Some trimming of the OS, speeding up some menus and adding some games. This update was for both the Zune device (all of them) and the desktop software. It added some new features such as the ability to look for music that people like you like.

Another point of interest are the multiplayer games. They only have a handful of games, but they are free and they work well. The new multiplayer feature is nice cause you can now play Texas Hold 'Em, or Checkers with other Zunes nearby. Go ahead and insert your "Who owns a Zune" joke here.

When you add those new features (small but important ones) with the already awesomeness of the Zune, you should start to see why the Zune is a good personal media player.  If you don't know the full list of awesome, I have posted it, well right here:

  • Download Music from Device (all generations)
  • Share music with other Zunes
  • Share music with Xbox
  • Zune Pass (which just got more awesome, details in a min)

Let's get intimate with this last feature, the Zune Pass. Zune Pass isn't really a feature, it's the subscription plan you can use to get music for your Zune. For only $14.99/month you get as much music as you can download, so far I have over 100GB downloaded from Zune. There are no caps, except what you HDD can hold. Oh but wait... it is DRMed! That doesn't really matter to me, for a couple reasons, mainly I don't try to use my music anywhere I don't have access to my Zune or my Laptop (one of the three computers on my Zune Pass).

Zune Pass just got better though. Microsoft just announced that Zune Pass now get (included in the $14.99 price tag) 10 songs to keep forever! That is right, for each month you have your Zune Pass you now get 10 free DRM-free tracks to keep forever! When you consider that tracks cost approx. $1 each, that brings the cost of the Zune Pass to effectively $4.99 a month! Think Apple will follow suit? Hell they haven't even got a subscription service yet.

NXE: New Xbox Experience

Let's shift gears, and talk about my Xbox Experience. The new dashboard is sweet! It is fast, it is clean, finding the information you are searching for is quite easy now, and it just looks nice. Avatars are... avatars. Meh. Installing games to the HDD is ok too, it would be better if Microsoft would consider alternatives to the CD in tray requirement. Maybe a 1 week DRM so I don't have to keep my disk in the machine?

The real winner in this NXE though is NetFlix. Wow! I have a cruddy DSL where I am living right now and the NetFlix streaming just worked, and worked well. Once a movie is buffered (and they buffer more than normal Xbox videos) there wasn't a single second I thought about the fact that it was streaming.

The selection on the NetFlix streaming is quite lame. However I did find a bunch of movies I either haven't seen or wanted to see again. I would love to see NetFlix work out the kinks with the Sony rights to streaming on the Xbox. It really rubs me wrong when a company like Sony does exactly this, and their partner Netflix covers for them by saying there is no foul play. I call bullshit. I could possibly understand that story if Sony pulled the streams from all streaming avenues, and not just Xbox.

Conclusion

So there you have it, I am just a fanboy at this point. You would have a hard time convincing me that an iPod is greater than a Zune, or that a PS3 is greater than an Xbox. Note to Apple and Sony, feel free to send me free stuff to try and convert me, I would be happy to give you a fair shake.