Some of the world’s largest technology companies are struggling to supplant — or at least supplement — your television set. Microsoft, Google, and Apple are all trying to infiltrate your living room, and they’re each doing so through a variety of products and services. Microsoft has the Xbox One; Apple has the Apple TV; Google has Chromecast and the Google TV platform. Just about the only thing these products have in common is that they can be plugged into a television set.
Oh, and Netflix.
Releasing a consumer technology product, especially one meant to compete in the living room, without Netflix support would be a bit like shipping a smartphone, tablet, or PC without a Web browser. The service has become the lowest common denominator of the living room; if you want to compete for the most-wanted room in the house you’ve gotta have Netflix. And that’s exactly what Netflix should want.
Unlike other streaming video services — Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, and HBO Go come to mind — Netflix doesn’t change its service based on the device you’re using or whether or not you’ve got a cable subscription. If you’ve got a Netflix subscription, you’ve got access to Netflix’s selection. (Or however you’d phrase that so it didn’t sound like something you might find on a bumper sticker.)
Netflix, then, is a quick-and-easy way for both consumers and businesses to get access to all kinds of content. It’s no coincidence that Google launched the Chromecast with Netflix support (and, for a while, three free months of the service) even though it’s the only video source in which the company does not have a stake, at least for the moment. Netflix is the only service that hasn’t released its own hardware, is fine with ceding control of most of the experience to manufacturers, and is not restricted by its deals with cable companies.
As the company continues to invest in original content that fact might become increasingly valuable. Shows like “House of Cards,” “Arrested Development,” and “Orange is the New Black” might not attract as many new subscribers as analysts and shareholders might like, but quality content that can only be found on Netflix might allow the company to hold on to its existing subscribers. Everything is part of the same package, and even if you’re really only interested in “Orange is the New Black,” $8 per month is less than you’d pay to watch the show via iTunes or through cable.
And when those shows are available alongside years’ worth of other television shows, original stand-up comedy and documentaries, and films, the question morphs from “Why should I sign up for Netflix?” to “Why shouldn’t I sign up for Netflix?” Larger empires than Netflix’s have been built on the same question.