The Bluth family returned last night and many people no doubt binge-viewed their way through a panoply of gags and self-referential humor. All indications are that Netflix’s attempt to become video-streaming’s version of HBO is working as its original programming – House of Cards, Arrested Development – keeps its subscribers happy.
Well, except for this subscriber.
Recently I signed up for Netflix, which my wife, kids and I watch over an AppleTV, and while I enjoyed House of Cards and will most likely check out Arrested Development, overall I’ve been disappointed with the dearth of movies. Let’s search for some of the most famous movies of all time – a painful activity with the AppleTV remote – the kind that would make many Top 100 lists: The Godfather? It’s not on Netflix. Citizen Kane? Nope, not on Netflix (although there is a Citizen Ruth, which isn’t quite the same). The Shawshank Redemption, Star Wars, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The Sting? No, not on Netflix (but the unwatchable Sting II is). Jaws, Singin’ in the Rain, The Graduate? None are on Netflix.
Earlier this month almost 1,800 move titles were purged from Netflix because licensing deals with MGM, Universal and Warner Bros. expired. Soon Netflix may say sayonara to Viacom titles, which includes material from Nickelodeon, BET and MTV, to “focus on exclusive and curated content” like, I guess, original programming like Arrested Development.
Hollywood content holders have the same gripe against Netflix that record companies do with music streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and, my favorite, MOG. They don’t think they’re making enough money off of them. And compared to the old days of VHS tapes and DVDs (and LPs and CDs) they aren’t. I know my own music buying habits have changed since I started streaming music. The only time I buy from iTunes or spring for a CD is when the music isn’t available on MOG.
What is happening, of course, is that there’s a balkanization of content, with myriad walled gardens popping up, and as a media consumer I have to scale these walls to find what I want. It is not convenient and more walls equal greater consumer frustration. For example, recently my 9-year-old wanted to watch Despicable Me. I checked Netflix. No go. I went to Hulu. Not there either. So I sifted through various movie channels on Time-Warner Cable. After about 10 minutes I found it.
Frankly, I’d pay four times the $7.99 month I pay Netflix to a service that had everything in one place. That’s how iTunes ended up dominating digital music. A vast selection coupled with ease of use, which locked you in. That’s not likely to happen with video content, though. And with never knowing where a particular movie is combined with the AppleTV remote, which makes searching for titles about as enjoyable as typing with a hammer, suddenly I pine for the days of mail ordering DVDs from Netflix.
I never did that, but I heard there was a large selection.