Netflix, Stop Floundering Around and Making Things More Complicated

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Earlier this morning, Netflix sent out an apologetic email informing Netflix subscribers about a new development: Henceforth, decreed CEO Reed Hastings, the word “Netflix” will now refer to only the streaming video service. DVDs (and now video games) will be banished to another site, which will look identical to the old Netflix but which will be called “Qwikster” and be, for all intents and purposes, totally separate from Netflix.

This is dumb.

The price hike Netflix underwent back in July aroused a sort of media-centric kerfuffle, despite the fact that the tech media, of all people, were surely aware that the ludicrously low prices Netflix was charging could not possibly stay so low if Netflix was to expand. (The same problem applies to music services like Spotify, Rdio, and MOG.) Aside from the day long eye-rolling about a raise in price, I doubted at the time that there would be any significant problem for Netflix down the road. Their service, especially compared to, say, cable TV, is insanely cheap, and I assumed people would grumble and then get used to it.

Apparently not, because this morning, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, sent out an email to subscribers notifying them of a pretty significant change: Netflix will entirely separate the streaming and the DVD-by-mail services. And not like they were before: the DVD-by-mail service is getting a new name, a new site, and will show up on your monthly statement as a separate bill.

This move doesn’t solve anything, doesn’t alleviate the woes of any of the crazies who cancelled their subscription to Netflix (which, might we say again, is amazing, and an amazing deal) over a four-dollar price hike. It simply makes it more difficult to have both a streaming and DVD service–and as many of the content providers (TV conglomerates like Viacom, movie studios) are being very obstinate about licensing content for streaming, a lot of movies and TV are still only available on discs, so it’s not crazy to want both services.

Why does Netflix want to separate its streaming from its DVD service so completely? It’s not for the customer. The DVD-by-mail service is dying slowly, and Netflix has made a whole mess of changes, some obvious and some not, to encourage people to think “streaming,” and not “red envelopes,” when they think “Netflix.” And that’s fine, but this separate services thing seems like a lot more trouble than it’s worth just for some clear-cut severance.

Before the change, if you wanted to play, say, The West Wing, which you probably do because it’s amazing, you’d go to Netflix, search for “the west wing,” and find that, oh no, it’s not available for streaming, but you can rent it on DVD. Easy! Now, if you did the same thing, Netflix would tell you “this title is not available.” Then you can go over to Qwikster and search, if you remember that you pay for two separate services. Oh, also, ratings and reviews (which are pretty important, especially for Netflix’s recommendation algorithms) will also be entirely separate, even when the exact same title is available both for streaming and on disc.

This isn’t the end of the world, and I don’t want to make it a bigger deal than it is. But here’s why this is annoying: it is totally unnecessary. Aside from some psychological benefit of separating the DVD and streaming services in the customer’s mind more thoroughly, there is no benefit to doing this, and it definitely makes using these services in tandem less convenient. Hastings did toss in a legitimately nice upgrade: Qwikster will also rent video games for Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360. That is great! Very exciting! But there’s no reason that couldn’t have been integrated with the streaming service as well.

Is this a reason to abandon Netflix? No. Of course not, don’t be ridiculous, I don’t know why you’d even ask that rhetorical question that you didn’t even really ask. But come on, Netflix. Focus on getting more content and stop worrying so much about what the tech press (yeah, I know) writes. The one big benefit I see from this is that it’ll be easier, in the future, to ignore what’s going on with the DVD service as fewer and fewer people care about it–though I do wonder why this move is coming after the price hike and not before, and why it seems so oddly haphazard (Netflix didn’t even bother to secure the @Qwikster Twitter handle, which is currently occupied by a stoner with lousy grammar). Let’s just hope this is the last shake-up, and we can all go back to streaming episodes of Roseanne instead of venturing outdoors.