It shouldn’t really be that surprising to see a company like Netflix decide to get into the movie and TV-streaming business. Being intimately involved in the turmoil of the DVD rental business over the past two or three years — including regular beatings from a behemoth like Blockbuster — no doubt has a way of keeping you on your toes. But will streaming video to Netflix customers be enough to save the company from the dust heap of history?
Mike Arrington says he is taking back his recent criticisms of the company, and that the new service is “excellent” and “significant competition” for others in the same space. Colour me unconvinced. In fact, I would have to agree with Dave Winer (Ed: not again!) that it is lame.
The online video game is already crowded, and getting more so by the day. Google and YouTube are doing deals, and talking about others, with every major network on the planet. The Venice Project — the latest venture from Skype billionaires Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom, which has been renamed Joost — is trying to reinvent television online, as are Brightcove and others. And Apple and Amazon are already in the movie-downloading business.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning that the major movie studios are also in the movie-downloading business, but services like CinemaNow are such non-entities that they’re barely even on the radar, and likely never will be. And of course there is the magical world of BitTorrent, Bram Cohen’s peer-to-peer delivery service, and other outlets of questionable legality — including several that use the often overlooked (but still viable) Usenet system.
Into that mix comes Netflix, which definitely has a large mind-share when it comes to brand name. And I suppose that streaming a movie or TV show is arguably similar to renting one and having to give it back. But with the proliferation of alternatives, are people likely to settle for only being able to stream rather than save a movie? I doubt it.
Netflix customers (who pay $18 a month) apparently get 18 hours of viewing, or about eight movies. They can stop them, and only get charged for the minutes they used, but as far as I can tell you can’t restart them or pause them. In other words, it’s already less useful than your regular TV with a DVR attached, where you can pause and restart or even record. Netflix seems like a step backwards rather than forwards.