Friday, November 30, 2012

Why Dave Winer Quit Netflix

Dave Winer:

I think Netflix missed the boat, bigtime. They could have been the place on the net to learn about and watch and share movie experiences. I think they could have started a match.com type service. If you’re in a strange city and would like to go to the movies with someone with similar tastes, just click a few buttons. They were gathering all this information about people’s movie preferences. But they were reluctant to build systems around it. And reluctant to open it up to app developers. I think we all missed out on something, because movies at least to some of us are such an important form of personal expression.

I’m not exactly sure what Netflix should have done differently, but this resonated with me. When I joined the service in 2001, I rated movies and put every one that I wanted to watch in their queue. I saw it as an online database of my own movie information. That broke down some years later when I hit the maximum queue size and started augmenting it with a text file. Even with Ajax, managing the queue always felt cumbersome. And they never really built out the service in the way that I predicted. Why was there nowhere to add notes, such as why I had added a particular movie or what I thought of it? Why did their database and summaries remain so poor?

A few weeks ago, I deleted my entire Netflix queue except for the next few discs that I want to receive. I now manage the queue in a single text file. The new commands in BBEdit 10.5 make reordering easy. It syncs to my iPhone via Dropbox and WriteUp.

I still like Netflix the DVD-mailing service, though. The selection is top notch. The price, though higher than before, is still reasonable. With Blu-ray, the video quality is better than iTunes, except for some TV shows where Apple offers HD quality and only a DVD exists. You get commentary and other special features. You can keep the movie longer than 24 hours.

3 Comments

"I still like Netflix the DVD-mailing service, though. The selection is top notch. The price, though higher than before, is still reasonable. With Blu-ray, the video quality is better than iTunes, except for some TV shows where Apple offers HD quality and only a DVD exists. You get commentary and other special features. You can keep the movie longer than 24 hours."

The Kwightstir thing really is a kick-ass service.

Blu utterly destroys every streaming concept into the ground for multiple reasons, as you note. And nobody does Blu rental one tenth as well as Kwightstir. The web queue has always sucked, and Netflix obviously wants out of the mail business some day, but who cares?

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And while Dave is normally correct about most things, I think his notion that Netflix missed the boat in not making it more social is kinda nuts.

(IMHO, Netflix missed the boat in waiting 2 to 4 years too long to get started on establishing an Original Programming studio. Being a pure middleman in a business with low barriers to entry - aka streaming - is a bad proposition. They had high barriers to entry with their top-notch mail business arm, but they should have understood that would change as they fundamentally changed the manner of distribution.)

Their streaming service is a meh because, as Dave elsewhere notes, you just pick through the cream of the crop and then cancel.

(Actually, I recently re-subscribed to Netflix streaming. I got a Roku to take advantage of all the free HBO and Amazon Prime programming I'm entitled to. Turns out that the Roku has a lovely combo search where I can plug in a director or actor, get a filmography, and see what's available (in "HD") for the titles for free in both Prime and Netflix, and immediately initiate a viewing. Makes it always easy to find something I'd like to casually watch without paying a-la-carte, and just watch. In short, the Roku's search synergy between Prime and Netflix made the eight bucks a month worthwhile again for me.)

Still don't really see a use-case for the Apple box outside the immersed Apple ecosystem experience. TiVo/Amazon still makes better sense to me for a-la-carte rentals.

@Chucky It’s kind of hard to imagine what a more social site could have been like, since no one’s done it well yet. I don’t find Dave’s specific examples that persuasive, but I think there’s potential in the general idea. Like the original programming, this could have created some lock-in for Netflix so that they weren’t just a middleman. And, likewise, if the iTunes store is going to be disrupted, it might be by a service that’s more social—since Apple has historically bad at that stuff.

Maybe it’s just the content I happen to be interested in, but my impression is that Apple has really been increasing its lead over Amazon in terms of streaming video content. Also, Apple TV has some live content.

"Maybe it’s just the content I happen to be interested in, but my impression is that Apple has really been increasing its lead over Amazon in terms of streaming video content."

Huh. Certainly could be that you are interested in utterly different stuff than I check for, but whenever I look up a title via Can I Stream It?, I tend to find almost perfect parity between Amazon and Apple in both pricing and availability for a-la-carte stuff.

Interestingly, it sure seems to me as if both Apple and Amazon are operating by a de facto "agency rule" with a-ala-carte movies and TV. (Obviously unlike the situation with books.) So the studios give the same content to both to be sold at the same price.

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