Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

The Antisocial Network: Netflix Has a Failure to Communicate

Posted by CinemaPsycho on September 12, 2010

This may not seem too interesting to anyone who isn’t a Netflix customer, so I apologize for that in advance. But nobody else seems to be writing about this, so I thought somebody should. You might think I should be directing this to Netflix’s Customer Service department, but I find that kind of thing to be an exercise in futility. So I’m making the even more futile effort of posting this on my blog in hopes that someone at the company will read it. That probably won’t happen, but you never know. Maybe they have their drones searching Google for any mention of the company. Who knows? At the very least, it’ll make me feel better.

I want to start by saying that I have been a Netflix customer for several years now, and in general I love the service. I love the selection (a film geek’s dream) and the convenience of renting movies by mail, keeping them for as long you want and sending them back when you’re done. I know everyone’s crazy about the Instant Watching service now, but I don’t even use it (I don’t really want to watch movies on my computer; that’s what I have a damn DVD player for). I like using the service and I have no intention of ending my membership as long as they continue to rent discs.


Having said that, recently they dropped some of their longtime features, and that really bugs the hell out of me. As of September 3rd, members no longer have access to the Community page or its various features. For the uninitiated, let me explain this. It’s basically a deal where you can invite other Netflix members you know to “Friend you” and once they’ve done so, you can send them film recommendations (or warnings), you can check out their queues, see what they’ve recently added, what they have at home, what they’ve recently watched, etc. And of course they can do the same to you. It’s like a mini-network for film buffs who use Netflix. It’s one of the things I liked most about Netflix when I first signed up – the ability to check out what your friends are watching, recommend films to them and receive recommendations from them. It was a sort of interactive thing that went beyond just “renting movies” – it was like you were part of a community. In a minor way, at least, you were interacting with fellow movie lovers, particularly people you knew personally and whose tastes you trust.

I’m sure some customers never used these features and just rented movies anonymously, and if you didn’t actually know any other members, it wasn’t much use. Fair enough. But if you did use it, it was an easy and direct way to communicate with other members about the movies you loved, liked and even hated. Also, some members would post lists of movies that were available on Netflix, ranging from movies that were coming out soon to personal favorites to movies grouped by director, actor, decade or genre, etc. that you could browse and queue anything you found interesting. I personally discovered a lot of movies this way that I probably would never have watched otherwise. That’s what was so cool about Netflix: the idea that members were sharing their tastes and interests with others. And one would assume that this only led to more rentals, more memberships and therefore more profits for the company. So it seems kind of counter-productive for them to suddenly yank these features away.

On the plus side, not having the Community page means I no longer have to read random nonsense like right-wing lunatic rants about Hollywood movies (hey, no one’s forcing you to watch them) or one-star “reviews” of films like No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood. There’s always some bad apples in the bunch. But it was a small price to pay for the benefits of the service. Now Netflix members are no longer part of a community; we’re just anonymous schmucks who rent movies by mail. Yes, we can still rate movies, but our friends can’t see our ratings; we still have profiles, but nobody reads them. So what’s the point? Might as well take away those features too. For that matter, why not take away the ability to queue movies and arrange them in the order we want? Wouldn’t it be more convenient for the company to just send us movies at random? I know there’s a family in Ohio that hasn’t seen Salo yet. That may sound ridiculous, but what they’ve done is essentially removed one of the basic features of their service. If they’re going to do that, why not remove them all? Why not bend the customers over even more and make it a Blu-Ray-only service or an Instant Watching-only service? And after having taken away the most basic features, why not raise membership fees? That seems like a great business strategy. I mean, it’s not like any video stores are left open for people to go back to, right?

As absurd as all that sounds, that’s basically what Netflix has done. They’ve taken one of the most attractive features of their service and thrown it away. Yet somehow they expect us to pay the exact same prices even though we’re getting less out of the service. That simply doesn’t make any logical sense to me. Why should I, as a loyal customer, pay exactly what I paid before if I’m not getting all of the services I used before? As a wise man once said, “screw that noise”. I could cancel my membership over this, but then I’d be the one losing out. So my response is simple – I’ve dropped my membership from 4 movies at a time ($23.99 a month – yes, I’m an addict) to 3 at a time ($16.99 a month). That seems like the most logical and sensible thing to do. It’s not that I really think that extra $7 is going to make or break the company. Of course not. But I simply refuse to pay as much as I have been if I’m not getting the features that I did before. It doesn’t make sense to continue to do that. Of course I’ll get one less movie out at a time, but I can live with that. What I can’t live with as a consumer is paying the same price and getting less out of the service. I’m not saying everyone has to do what I did, but if you feel the need to, I say go for it. And yes, I’ll go back up to 4 at a time when they bring those features back. Knowing full well that will probably never happen.

Honestly, Netflix’s decision just seems counter-intuitive at the very least, at a time when millions of people are using “social networking” sites like Facebook and MySpace, twittering and tweeting and texting and whatever else they’re doing. Social networking is all the rage these days – why would they drop those kind of services when people seem to want them most? Doesn’t seem like a wise move to me. Netflix is already dealing with the fallout of another bad decision – making their Instant Watching service available to all members, even those who only get one disc out at a time (which only costs $8.99 a month). So basically they’ve inspired millions of customers to drop their services from 3 or 4 discs at a time to one at a time (costing the company tons of money) in exchange for all the Instant Watching they want. Brilliant move, Einsteins! Now you’re making 9 bucks off of people when you were making 17 or 24. At the very least, I would have limited the number of hours of online watching per month to people who get less than 3 discs at a time. That at least would have been good business sense. Instead, they’ve basically opened the floodgates for people to access thousands of movies for less money than it would cost them to rent a few by mail. And they wonder why the rental market is shrinking! Good luck with that, suckers.

But I wouldn’t advocate changing anything now – you’ll just piss off the rest of the customers the same way you’ve pissed me off. And if that were to happen, there would be a shitstorm of Biblical proportions headed your way. It’s not like people can’t just download movies illegally for free if they really want to. There are other options out there, and when you take away what people want, they find other ways to get it. After all, since Netflix isn’t a community any more, why should the customers feel any loyalty to them? As soon as something better comes along, people gravitate towards it and leave the past in the dust. Just ask Blockbuster.

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