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EDWARD COPELAND to Netflix: Drop Dead

by Matthew Seitz
July 15, 2011 9:58 AM
15 Comments
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By Edward Copeland
PressPlay Contributor

Dear Netflix:

By now, I'm certain everyone has heard about your company's plan to separate your unlimited streaming and DVD-by-mail rental plans into separate subscriptions. That means that if you are a subscriber who would like to keep both options, your price is going to rise, since henceforth you'll be paying for two subscriptions added together to make one larger price.

Of course, what the change is really about is that Netflix is trying to get all its customers to go the streaming route so it can eventually dump the DVD-by-mail side of their business — the side that made it the success story it is today — and lose the expense of postage. A CNET story Wednesday said that as many as 41 percent of Netflix subscribers are expected to cancel over the move.

Most of the complaints I have been reading and hearing concern the price hike, obviously coming from customers such as myself who would want both options of actual DVDs and the occasional use of streaming (if I have time and am willing to try to watch something on my laptop, even though that has had mixed results in terms of quality). However, there are several other issues that Netflix should consider before committing corporate suicide, starting with the fact that they will be discriminating against disabled people and others on fixed incomes such as myself. Surely, Netflix doesn't want some kindly attorneys somewhere to work up a case pro bono showing how it could violate the Americans With Disabilities Act, do they?

On the off chance that some readers haven't seen the email sent to subscribers, I thought I'd reprint that first. It reads as follows:

We are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into two separate plans to better reflect the costs of each. Now our members have a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan, or both.Your current membership for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs will be split into 2 distinct plans:

Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month

Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs, 2 out at-a-time (no streaming) for $11.99 a month

Your price for getting both of these plans will be $19.98 a month ($7.99 + $11.99). You don't need to do anything to continue your memberships for both unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs.

These prices will start for charges on or after September 1, 2011.

You can easily change or cancel your unlimited streaming plan, unlimited DVD plan, or both, by going to the Plan Change page in Your Account.

We realize you have many choices for home entertainment, and we thank you for your business. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to call us at 1-888-357-1516.
–The Netflix Team

My readers at Edward Copeland on Film know that I have primary progressive multiple sclerosis, and that because of a greedy and inattentive doctor, a bedsore no one noticed soon enough, and an understaffed, incompetent hospital, I ended up bedridden more than three years ago. As a result, I'm on Social Security Disability (for which I've never received a cost-of-living increase, though the assholes making six-figure salaries in Congress made sure to give themselves one each year) and what little savings I had (including my 401k) are quickly dwindling away. My sole expenses are health and medical related, Netflix and lottery tickets if the jackpot tops $50 million.

As you probably can guess, my life is my laptop -- which is breathing its last, I fear -- and I can't afford to buy a new one, though I've heard talk that some friends I haven't seen or talked to in a long time have pooled their resources and are getting me a new one soon. That makes me very happy, but I digress. The thing you need to know is that when I do use the streaming option, I can only do it on my laptop. That's fine in a pinch, but I generally don't like to watch movies on that small a screen. I also don't have the money to buy the equipment that would allow the streaming to go into my TV and, since I can't get out of bed without the help of other people and a Hoyer lift, I couldn't connect such equipment if I could afford it. My aging parents are my caregivers and more than 30 years since we first purchased a VCR, the device still stymies them.

Several times when I have used the streaming option, the movie or program I'm watching has stopped and had to rebuffer as if I'm on an old dial-up connection instead of my cable company's WiFi. It did it once when a movie only had 10 minutes left to go. It took 30 minutes on the phone with Netflix and a fix that involved starting some other program to get the movie going again. Stress aggravates the symptoms of M.S., so you want me to sign up for a streaming option full of kinks that doesn't work all the time that I'd be forced to watch on a small screen with inferior sound?

It was bad enough when you started getting DVDs of new releases about a month after they came out and stripped of all their special features. I assume you're hoping the bulk of your customer base hasn't read all the stories about how more and more studios and TV networks are talking about refusing to let you have their product at all. Is Showtime sticking by its guns? Is it safe to assume you will never be offering Dexter Season 5? (It also prompted the creation of HBO GO.)

That leads us to another problem with your proposal. Your DVD library has items that your streaming library doesn't and vice-versa. So a consumer who picks one of the options (or can't afford both) will lose access to a lot of titles. Also, the streaming library titles usually come with expiration dates that you don't announce until a few days before they disappear. If you don't happen to have the time to watch that title then, you are just out of luck.

In the end, this is the same story we see repeated over and over again in all sorts of industries, especially ones related to technology or entertainment. Format changes ("Beta? No good now. Need VHS." "Video? It's all DVD now." But they don't record? "Now they do." after a pause "To heck with DVD recorders, it's all DVRs now. You don't really need those DVDs now either, get Blu-ray." What should I do with all these laserdiscs?) and upgrades happen constantly (Consider Facebook's motto: "If it's not broke, break it") and if you are unfortunate enough not to be able to buy each new one, your equipment becomes obsolete. What all of you wizards fail to realize is that this country still hasn't recovered from the deep economic hole that Wall Street and the last administration dug and that the average American still hasn't emerged from the mounds of dirt that we were covered by in the process, so you're really pricing yourself out of existence. If it comes down to a choice between the DVD only plan, the streaming only plan or having enough money to fill your gas tank to get to your job (if you are lucky enough to have one) so you can pay your bills, Netflix will be the one who loses in the end. I see your corporation is being managed as well as our government. Remember, there are other choices.

Sincerely,
Edward Copeland

Edward Copeland is the founder and editor of Edward Copeland on Film, where this article was cross-posted.

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15 Comments

  • Scott Watterman | August 4, 2011 6:06 AMReply

    One thing netflix failed to mention in their email is that if a payment failed to process and your subscription is put on hold until you are able to renew it, is that they will go ahead and charge you the new rate. Despite it not being on or around Sept. 1 yet. they did this with me back in July and I raised hell about that until they reimbursed me for the extra amount.

  • Scott Watterman | August 4, 2011 5:48 AMReply

    One thing netflix failed to mention in their email is that if a payment failed to process and your subscription is put on hold until you are able to renew it, is that they will go ahead and charge you the new rate. Despite it not being on or around Sept. 1 yet. they did this with me back in July and I raised hell about that until they reimbursed me for the extra amount.

  • Ian Grey | July 22, 2011 3:18 AMReply

    I don't have the link to the trade mag with whatever industry wag saying that
    this is a done deal, that Netflix already took into account huge negative response by hiring a mess of customer service people and whatever.

    Anyway--Netflix's goal is to kill DVDs. They're doing it. There's no talking to them about it. They see themselves as the iMac that killed floppy discs: people were upset at first but they adjusted.

    The price thing--they had little choice about that. The studios, brilliant as ever, punished them for making them for making them money with a ginormous price increase.

    Anyway--this stories over, it's just a matter of how fast the paint dries.

    Netflix is a streaming service. Period. This is just a lurching in-between period.

    As usual in hyper-capitalism, our opinions or needs kind of totally don't matter once a market ecosystem has been monopolized.

  • AR | July 21, 2011 6:07 AMReply

    You are insane if you think that netflix is responsible for your limitations, as much as they suck. Their service is to provide movies, not to press the play button for you. You aren't obligated to use their service, nor is it a god given right to watch movies.

  • Owne Chadmire | July 16, 2011 11:51 AMReply

    Bob W. I would like to point out that about only 20% of the Netfli$ library is available on their streaming service. You will be missing a lot of selection if you choose the streaming route.

    The one thing I dislike about the Streaming Side is that you can be watching something one day and login to finish the next and realize that its now gone. These streams are timed and they expire when the streaming rights between the studio and Netfli$ expire.

    I am waiting for a new service to begin soon called Ultraviolet. Its a ownership model (i prefer to purchase than to rent) thats supported by all the electronic companies and most of the movie studios (Best Buy and Walmart are supporters too!)

    http://www.uvvu.com/

  • Owne Chadmire | July 16, 2011 11:46 AMReply

    Mr Lynch. About your brick and mortar stores true. But we are talking about product. The product the brick and mortar stores carry have closed captions the product Netfli$ carries many do not have CC. This is a violation in my opinion and others.

    Do you know that a deaf group is already filing a suit against Netfli$ bacause of this:

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-20072619-38/netflix-sued-by-deaf-group-over-lack-of-subtitles/

    Of course its all easy to sweep under the rug if you have no disability.

  • Sebastian St.Troy | July 16, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    Edward, thanks for reporting about Netflix. There are so many unhappy customers at the moment, including the deaf and hard of hearing who still have to pay full price, yet only can view 30% of the Netflix content.

    Here's a link to the Netflix Petition asking for equal access.
    http://www.change.org/petitions/netflix-make-films-accessible-for-the-deaf-hoh

    and the report from the Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee was delivered to the Federal Communications Commission this week, triggering a six-month deadline for new rules that require captioning of TV programming redistributed on the Internet.
    http://www.tvtechnology.com/article/122492

  • paul | July 16, 2011 4:28 AMReply

    to me the live streaming isn't that great. netfilx doesn't have a huge selection of good movies. i usually just stick to dish on demand.

  • Edward Copeland | July 16, 2011 3:49 AMReply

    They raised their rates in November, their profits rose 28% in the first quarter and they are ignoring that people won't pay for convenience if they can't afford it. Especially as they will continue to lose inventory from companies out to fight them. As the cable companies make more headway in getting our corrupt lawmakers to kill Net Neutrality, guess who will get hit? It won't just be unpopular ideas or little blogs, but they'll aim directlly at Netflix streaming. Then you'll see some angry subscribers. The Atlantic had an excellent article I wsh I'd seen before I wrote before I wrote this called 7 Reasons This Is a Boneheaded Move. http://j.mp/rqlgMe Regardless of my personal situation, this is just corporate incompetence and they will be stomped by older, experenced corporate interests who already have the congressional crooks in their pocket. Blockbuster was a juggernaut once, now their stock is worthless and they are in bankruptcy.

  • Dale | July 16, 2011 1:53 AMReply

    Oh, I didn't see that you were broke and on disability. My apologies, man. Good luck and god bless.

  • Dale | July 16, 2011 1:51 AMReply

    It is amazing that you had to write such a large blog to display your blatant idiocy. Get with the future, you fool. Connect your pc to yOur tv or just get a Ps3. You are a bitch.

  • Tom Lynch | July 16, 2011 1:35 AMReply

    Mr. Copeland, you have my sympathies, but you're ignoring some rather huge factors here. One, Netflix's cost for content is about to skyrocket. So, for that matter, is the cost for content for all of those other services. Supply-side cost increases are Netflix's fault? Also, how is the fact that the studios are giving Netflix special-feature-free discs, and subtitle-free digital files for streaming the fault of Netflix?

    You're blaming the grocery store for raising the prices on poor quality bananas when you should be criticizing the only banana wholesaler available to the grocery store, that's supplying them with substandard product and jacking up the prices because they know they're the only game in town.

    Also, 10 years ago, movies were unavailable to people who couldn't get themselves to a brick and mortar store. Were they in violation of the ADA? Moreover, Netflix is still providing a far more valuable service than your local Blockbuster ever did, at a fraction of the cost, and hugely more convenient to boot. Even with an increase this steep, this is still far less expensive than what you'd have paid to get a couple movies a week at BB 10 years ago. Is the mismatch in content ideal? Hardly, but digital content is still the wild west, and the studios are just realizing that they're the ones with the biggest guns. It's going to take some time before these things normalize. Making ADA threats and accusing NF of money grubbing isn't constructive, nor does it look at the root of the problem. But it's an easy target, because it's the most immediate, and attacking people without taking the time to think about it is what the internet is for, right?

  • Edward Copeland | July 16, 2011 1:00 AMReply

    I wrote this in a whirl or otherwise I would have remembered the games Netflix used to play with people who turned around their DVDs too fast so Netflix started purposely slowing down how fast they got their next rental, claiming they had to ship them from geographical shipping points far away and addressing the return envelope to the same place, even if your own city had a shipping and receiving point. That ended up in a lawsuit with Netflix having to give subscribers credits as part of the class-action settlement. So bad behavior isn't new to Netflix, they've just been on good behavior for awhile. I do want to give them credit for one thing: They actually let you call and talk to real people about problems while the majority of Web-related companies don't even want an email from you, advising you to go talk to other users having problems in pointless forums that resolve nothing.

  • Julie | July 15, 2011 10:24 AMReply

    Well said.

  • Bob Westal | July 15, 2011 10:22 AMReply

    I wouldn't begin to compare my Neftlix quibbles to Mr. Copeland's, but it should also be noted that many cinephile favorite titles which may not super huge with the public at large -- including a lot of Criterion titles -- are not available in Blu-Ray at Netflix. I hate to say it, but Blockbuster is better in that regard and I'm strongly considering dropping at least the DVD-by-mail portion of Netflix and using that exclusively, much as I've always disliked BB.

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