Tech thoughts: Qwikster versus the public library, or Redbox in morning, Netflix take warning

This week’s big media news is the announcement late Sunday night (?!) that Netflix will be splitting its DVD rental side into a separate entity from its streaming video side. The DVD side will now be called “Qwikster,” while also gaining its own separate website, recommendations lists, etc. from Netflix-proper (now streaming only), with no integration between the two sites.

Obviously, Netflix thinks that streaming video is the future of video rental. A nice idea, but after thinking about it, Netflix’s actions all feel rather flawed, and strike me as desperate in some ways (or just bizarre). My nitpicks:

  • What company announces such a major change in how its business operates on a *Sunday night*?! I was heading to bed when I first heard the news…
  • Yes, streaming video may be the future (and probably a lot cheaper than the costs of mailing, DVD sorting facilities, etc.), but besides requiring some specialized external box (a Blu-ray player with Netflix support, a Roku box, Apple TV, etc.) and Netflix offering no Linux support (thanks to using Silverlight instead of Flash), it’s got one problem for Netflix in particular: the streaming side has fewer choices than the DVD side. On top of that, it’ll have even fewer choices in the future, as Starz is pulling out from Netflix (taking with it a big chunk of streaming choices). Given the other competing streaming services, not sure what Netflix will offer will be enough in the long run, unless its library vastly improves.
  • The US’ broadband state is rather shoddy, with too many people stuck with slow speeds, or saddled with data caps, thanks to anti-competitive greed on the ISPs’ parts. There’s also conflicts of interest caused by ISPs not wanting to be mere “dumb pipes” but instead offer their *own* video services, which most do (via cable TV services).
  • As others online have made clear, it’s a lot less convenient to go to two separate sites to do what one site could do before. Some competitors have picked up on this, with Dish TV and Blockbuster (remember them?) deciding to offer a combined DVD rental/streaming video service, albeit only to Dish TV customers.
  • This decision comes on the heels of Netflix’s previous public relation woes (the big price hike for keeping streaming *and* DVDs).
  • The name “Qwikster” screams “afterthought,” is hard to spell, and indicates how badly Netflix wants to dump DVDs/sell off its DVD side. Might’ve helped if they’d at least checked the name’s use first, as some marijuana user on Twitter already uses the name.
  • Finally, there’s other choices available, unlike when I first started using Netflix almost six years ago. Redbox offers new mainstream Hollywood films for $1 a night, while Amazon, Hulu, and a few others offer streaming services (albeit with smaller or different libraries than Netflix’s). And, of course, there’s your local public library, which offers DVDs for free.

My Netflix viewing consists of the occasional blockbuster movie, TV show box sets (mainly cartoons), and some less mainstream choices, such as the series “Noah’s Arc” (a short-lived series about a group of gay Black friends’ lives in Los Angeles). I’ve always used the DVD side, never touching the streaming side (between the lack of Linux support and fewer choices). Back in 2005, I appreciated that Netflix offered me a bigger range of choices than what the library had, plus a lot fewer scratched discs. Now, however, I’m wondering if it’s time to ditch Netflix, er, “Qwikster.”

For possible alternatives, I can go to several stores near my apartment for Redbox kiosks if I need the latest blockbuster movie (which sometimes have huge waiting lists on Netflix). As for the TV show box sets and cartoons, I could go back to the public library, even despite the scratches on some of their DVDs and not having all of what Netflix would offer. The library’s “Noah’s Arc” discs, for instance, seem to be missing or stolen. Finally, whatever’s left that I couldn’t get from Redbox or the library (or some other online service like Hulu, networks’ websites, etc.), I suppose I could buy DVDs. However, I don’t think it’d be very much.

We’ll see if Netflix/Qwikster’s choice works out, though I suspect the big changes in online streaming video (and DVD rental probably not completely dying just yet) might leave Netflix with a different status in another six years from now.

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