Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Watch Instantly

Netflix isn't just about getting the new hot hits on DVD. The Psychotronic Netflix page on Facebook, post by post, and the increasingly indispensable Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog, in more complete list form, researches and reveals the various obscurities, off-the-radar gems and lost or forgotten films becoming available through Netflix's burgeoning streaming service.

Many of these films have not been available before in any format since VHS, and some never made it to DVD. "The Keep" (Michael Mann), "Citizen's Band" (Johnathan Demme), "92 in the Shade" (Thomas McGuane), "Cul-de-sac" (Roman Polanski), "How I Won The War" (Richard Lester), "Harry In Your Pocket" (Bruce Geller), "Inserts" (John Byrum), "Hickey & Boggs" (Robert Culp), and "Grindhouse" (Rodriguez/Tarantino (the original theatrical hash) are all examples of films I saw in theatres, in some cases travelling many miles past my neighborhood venue, titles not currently available on regular DVD ("Grindhouse" recently escaped on Blu-ray) and can now only be seen by looking at my computer screen by myself, alone.

DVD rights to such titles are murky, undervalued and considered (or actually) not worth pursuing. But these films seem to be part of some out-of-date late '70s-early '80s cable bundles that didn't make it to the DVD publishers during the go-go era of Blockbuster and Erol's, packages that Netflix has purchased to beef up their offerings, from Starz (for a steal, it turns out) or elsewhere.

Netflix doesn't want to be in the mail-order business. The more that people stream films over their t.v.s, phones and handhelds, the less they have to manage, ship and replace thousands upon thousands of discs in the mail which are prone like all objects born of atoms to wear, get lost and suffer other misfortunes of human clumsiness. DVDs break and have to be replaced. When films can be streamed over air, the economics of digital delivery manifest themselves.

This is a long-term strategy - the financial benefit won't bear fruit for a while. Netflix may intend to eventually save the estimated $600m a year on snail-mail postage, but the cost of acquiring this content is suddenly astronomical - over $1.2 billion in the next year alone by some estimates.

The math has changed. I've talked about how Hollywood will insist on regaining control of their content online before. Netflix isn't buying savings because Hollywood has decided they want to be paid to let people look.

Netflix is only leasing the films, for increasingly short periods of time. 3 films in my "instant" queue disappeared last month, as deals matured and were not renewed at the old rates. Netflix has some work ahead as it decides whether (and how) to have the best, the widest, the newest or the deepest selections.

For now they have all the eyeballs. Reportedly over 80% of films watched online stream through Netflix, and they're responsible for over 20% of all internet traffic. This is an enviable position they welcome. Netflix has always had a long term strategy - they aren't called "MailDVDs" after all. Reed Hastings always knew the future of movies was online.

New consumer plans going into effect this week prove they would rather give you unlimited movies on the web than helping you arrange that list of DVDs to mail. People have been using their queues as memory aides - you aren't really going to get to all 500 of those films in this lifetime. As of this fall they report that more of their content is delivered online than by mail, in terms of hours watched. It used to be they mailed DVDs, but also streamed some movies too. Now they stream movies but mail them too if you really want.

They hope that adding that extra dollar to each account nudges you in the right direction. It will also help pay the bills.

In the meantime, while only about 20% of their current content is available for streaming some of it is only available that way. It sits there behind a low-res window of laptop watch-instantly tempting us. I could spend months watching these low-rent forgotten '70s and '80s late-night channel 44 fillers, but the majority of viewers won't want to watch "Fast Food" with Michael J. Pollard and Traci Lords. *

If Netflix wants to offer all the new films and latest shows, it will pay dear for the privilege.
_ _ _ _ _ _

*Although I heartily recommend it.


Anonymous said...

3 films in my "instant" queue disappeared last month, as deals matured and were not renewed at the old rates.

Which 3 films?
From which studios?

Roger L. said...

I had Disney's "Bolt" in my instant queue for about 9 months and when I went to watch it it had converted to "saved." Not sure about other Disney titles.

I also have "Henry Poole Is Here" which became unavailable late in summer. These aren't the only time this has happened to me and I think it's happening a lot more than people realize. But then, that queue is so long for most people it happens under the radar.

Thanks for reading,