They say that you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. While this may be cold comfort to the thousands of Netflix customers who have recently been informed that they will no longer have access to their personally-designed Instant Queues or the high level of cinematic titles that will be no longer available as of May 1, the level of impatience this decision is being treated with is indicative of a larger problem: we demand immediate technological perfection with every change in our digital platforms.
In days past, we may have given companies more leeway to work out the “kinks” and “bumps” in their changes because we were aware that it was all for the good of the consumer. After all, they were doing it for our benefit — why shouldn’t we be patient? But now, when we have been given access to every social media that caters to our own personalized and individualized whim, we feel encroached upon when things don’t go exactly how we wish them to at all times. We have become the Veruca Salts of the technological age.
What is frightening about this is that we actually will benefit from these changes being made. It just may take a few days or weeks to see the results. And, of most importance, we will benefit the most. It is time now to take a minute, a few deep breaths, and look at the greater picture of what is actually happening in what Slate magazine nicknamed “streamaggeddon.”
Beginning today — May 1, 2013 — the film streaming landscape will alter and the natives are not only restless — they are out-and-out angry. No one likes change, but it is more than that: no one enjoys a more complicated digital universe either. In a space where we can do practically everything on one telephonic device that also serves as a computer and a camera and a book, the idea of subscribing to multiple streaming sites for home entertainment seems beyond annoying, it seems irrational.
My advice would be to look at the facts and then decide on the rationality of the situation.
First of all, the film library for Netflix is certainly going to change, but it is not, I repeat, not for the reasons mentioned in the Slate article. The author mentioned the introduction of Warner Archive Streaming, a service specifically designed/modeled for cinephiles and the discerning film fan. Apparently hundreds of titles from the MGM, Universal and Warner Bros. libraries that were previously available on Netflix were now to be shifted to the Warner Archive streaming service.
This was 100% false. While it is true that those titles will no longer be available on Netflix, and Warner Archive will indeed be adding a grand list of titles to their own service that have never been available before (coming faster all the time), this “switching” proposition is not the way that business is being handled. Netflix is simply playing chameleon and shaking things up a bit, library wise and interface-wise.
The actual press release that Warner has released as of April 30, 2013, stated the following:
“Warner Archive Instant is not involved in Netflix’s business decisions. Further Warner Archive Instant (WAI) content is drawn solely from the Warner Bros entertainment library and we are not streaming Universal or MGM content on this site.”
The misinformation that was being spread in this article not only causes a panic in operations for those of us trying to construct our home viewing experience, but it also misleads the public as to what the actual goals of each streaming operation is trying to do and offer us as consumers. By creating a hyperbolic term such as “streamageddon” and enabling panic, this article created alarm where it could have been simple transition. If the proper information had been printed the first time around, we could have been having the correct conversation: one which has more to do with streaming content, diversification and user interfaces.
This is hardly the first time that Netflix has changed their content to streamline the Netflix brand or to move forward with what they see as the trajectory of the company and its library offerings. Indie filmmakers began to notice a great deal less representation around 2011, and, as Anthony Kaufman noted at the time for Indiewire, “it looks like Netflix is docking its tail with a more old-fashioned strategy: Give (most of) the people (most of) what they want. And while Netflix — and some of its suppliers — are quick to defend the company's indie stance, it's clear some smaller players are being pushed aside.”
This marketing strategy seems pretty ideal for a streaming business that is, indeed, trying to hit the greatest amount of people and doesn’t wish to take chances on content. Not every user is a Joe Don Baker fan. The Warner Archive service can only be a positive addition. For many users specializing in cult, B-movie, classic and pre-code cinema, this streaming option may, in fact, service those needs better than Netflix ever did. The Warner Archive Collection with their highly responsive social networking, extremely interactive staff (showing up at various film events, giving out physical DVDs, distributing free codes to the online service) and entertaining podcasts has made it abundantly clear how fan and user-based they are. While the library may seem niche and specialized, they are adding new titles all the time and continually receptive.
Does this mean cancel Netflix? Not necessarily. What Netflix seems to be doing is trying out new interfaces and ways of working with their clientele. But, much like the library change-ups, this is nothing new. They have been having a helluva time figuring out the best way to transition into the streaming world. And exist in it happily. It’s not easy, and they’ve tried a number of different things.
In 2010, they shut down their social networking aspect, an application that was quite popular amongst many Netflix subscribers where the user could “share” or “recommend” films with friends. Now, they’re reportedly trying different kinds of interfaces that change the way users are able to interact with the Netflix site and the layout of the films, including the removal of the personalized instant queue. They are doing this in order to see what the response is (so far, the internet response seems angry and shouty…as in, lots of capital letter comments).
Obviously, ideas of access to home entertainment are sensitive and it is a hot button issue. It’s your home, your space, where you are allowed to hang out and relax and, realistically, you don’t want it to be a chore or complicated. But the variety of platforms we have now: Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, Redbox Instant, Netflix, Warner Archive, Fandor…it has clearly expanded and is continuing to do so.
Technology and the digital world are not going to stop anytime soon.
What we may want to recognize is we now have options to explore a variety of streaming sites that provide us with quality entertainment, from Arrested Development to Freebie and The Bean (Richard Rush, 1974). With the cornucopia of streaming locales available, it would be a shame to use Netflix alone. The streaming environment offers Fandor and its great indie stuff, the innovations of Warner Archive, multiple TV-specialized libraries and the more “generic” population oriented channels, like Netflix.
Instead of thinking about it as though our demands are not being met and the immediacy of the digital, we can consider this: we have an incredible opportunity right now: the streaming landscape has become the new cable with one major difference — by designing our own home entertainment network, we get to decide what is on at all times. We now have the choice.