Friday, September 23, 2011

Change Is Hard: Netflix, Facebook and Cats in Bags

by Sara N.

Find more Netflix flap origami here.
Two beloved companies announced changes to their websites this week that caused a rather big tempest in the Twitter-pot. And it got me thinking both about how we come to depend on technology and about how much the rhythms of our lives have changed to accommodate new modes of communication and entertainment.

(There will be a cat in a bag after the jump, I promise.)

I'm referring, of course, to Netflix and Facebook, which are both in the midst of evolutions. Netflix is struggling to stay relevant in an era where streaming media is becoming more popular (and more expensive) and mailing physical DVDs is becoming more outdated (and more expensive). Facebook, meanwhile, is struggling to evolve because ... umm ... because if Facebook doesn't give itself at least two facelifts a year, its denizens won't have anything to gripe about, I guess.

First, Netflix. Late Sunday night, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings offered the world's worst apology for its controversial price increase from two months ago and then announced that from now on, Netflix will feature streaming media only. The by-mail DVD portion would be split off into its own company with the head-scratching name Qwikster. This would mean two separate charges to your credit card and, worse, two separate websites. The integrated queue, where you could chose a physical DVD if your desired movie or TV show wasn't streamable, will soon be a thing of the past. Now you'll have to do two separate searches at two separate websites.

People were livid.

A few days later, Facebook unveiled an update that does away with the purely chronological feed and instead acts as a newspaper, highlighting the stories it thinks you will enjoy at the top of the page, then making you search for the chronological updates which, as far as I can tell, are randomly sprinkled throughout the stream. On top of that, it's created a new profile setup called Timeline, where you can bore your friends with a blog-esque accounting of your poor hairstyle choices in the '90s, if you wish. In addition, every time you read an article on Washington Post, watch a movie on your iPad or listen to a song on Spotify, your Facebook friends will know about it.

People were livid.

To be honest, I was resigned to the Facebook changes and livid about the Netflix/Qwikster changes. Like, "cancel immediately and send a flaming email that scorches all the earth around it" livid. No integrated queue? Two separate billing entries? More work for me, plus more expensive for me? I BID YOU GOOD DAY, SIR!

I have to go to two separate websites? UNACCEPTABLE!
And then I started thinking about it: What are my other options? Sure, I can get new releases from Redbox, but the most convenient one is about 15 minutes out of my way, and it doesn't have a good back catalog of older films and TV shows. Ditto my local video stores. A friend recently wanted to rent Wet Hot American Summer, but he couldn't find a single area video store that still carries it. Sure, it's an older film, but it's a cult classic with a small but loyal following. The story for TV on DVD is equally grim; our local stores carry DVDs of most of the HBO series, but forget about finding Fringe on DVD locally so I can finally, at long last, get caught up enough to watch the new season, which premies tonight.

In short, Netflix has neutered the local video industry, causing stores to go out of business or cut down on their back catalogs in the interest of stocking the newest titles. I actually can't think of a way to get the DVDs that I might want in the future which are sure to be a mix of older TV and movies and newer ones without both a Netflix and (sigh) Qwikster membership. As much as I want to vote with my wallet by canceling with a quickness, I just can't. Hulu Plus and Family Video won't cut it. Netflix has changed the landscape so much that the entertainment junkie has almost no choice but to submit to the ridiculous changes, pony up the extra money and figure out how to properly spell Qwikster. (Seriously, I defy you to type that as many times as I have and stay sane. It ain't easy.) Things may change as streaming media evolves, but this is the reality now.

The same problem pops up with Facebook. I'm not thrilled about the oversharing that's about to take place of every single song my friends listen to and every single article they read on the connected websites. I liked being able to decide to share only the stuff I really, really enjoyed, and I worry that this new trend of sharing everything will result in an overload of boring information. (Thankfully, you have to opt in, so the invasiveness will be at your own invitation.)

Seriously, that bad boy was all caught up under her arm. Poor Zoe!
But am I going to stop using Facebook? Probably not. I no longer keep in email contact with my far-flung friends because we're all on Facebook. I've gotten to know mere acquaintances better, and I feel more connected to my closer friends because of status updates and link sharing. And where else can I post photos of my cat getting stuck in a plastic bag for people who (allegedly) like me and care about the exploits of my cattery? Will I cut myself off from all of that? Maybe, if the oversharing gets invasive enough (and I realize that for many people, the invasiveness has already gone too far). And sure, I could glom onto Google+. But so far, it doesn't have the depth and interactivity that I find with the people I actually know and enjoy on Facebook.

Netflix and Facebook have changed the way we watch movies, share links and interact with our friends. Despite the discontent with the changes, I believe there's no going back to the way we were.

Facebook haters and Netflix shunners, hit the comments and tell me how you cope in a 'flix- and 'book-free world. And 'flix- and 'book defenders, please tell me how I've gotten it all wrong!
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  1. Ughh! I don't care so much about the Facebook thing. I purposely kept it as separate as possibly from the rest of my online existence, but the Netflix thing is a kick in the pants. I'm probably going to cancel the streaming part soon. There's just nothing on there. But I'll have to hang onto Qwikster, especially since they're adding videogames now, I can catch up on some RPGs I've been meaning to buy forever.


  2. That's exactly my plan, too. It sounds like the streaming options are getting worse and worse for Netflix, but I'll keep Qwikster around because there's just nowhere else to conveniently rent tons of movies. I'm just miffed at how ham-handed and customer un-friendly their decisions have been!

    Oh, and I can't cancel the streaming until I've finished "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." I hope they don't yank that away before I do!

  3. I just use bittorrent. It's very fast and reliable. A $7 vpn connection and yer good to go.

    As long as you can wait the next day on releases. For instance Game of Thrones is generally up about 24 hrs after the showing.

  4. I'm such a goody-goody! The combination of wanting to watch things on my big TV and being afraid that I'll be the one person who's taken to court for bittorrenting keeps me on the legal path.

  5. Well I can understand that. There is something to being good. (I'm of a gray area about all that).

    XBMC can bring things to your TV. And a VPN can fix the court thing. Or use a foreign country account that doesn't have draconian laws.

    However, being goody-goody, does the "roku" box have any hope for you? Google roku2.

  6. So, Netflix announced it's splitting up into Gamefly and BitTorrent? (rimshot)

    And these types of things are exactly why BitTorrent exists. Why, oh, why are the media companies making it so hard to get to their content in the face of losing their customers altogether? As this article puts it, "The easiest and most convenient way to see the movies or TV shows you want is to get them illegally." (

    I realize it's not sustainable for everyone to download their shows and avoid paying for anything. But the companies are only alienating their customers by trying to squeeze more and more money out of existing revenue streams instead of adjusting to the new reality of broadband and developing a new business model that takes it into account. They're still acting like it's 1998. To put that in perspective, The Matrix, Finding Nemo, and Schrek all debuted after 1998.

    (For more movies that make you feel old, try this:

  7. Kinda worse Chris.. in 1998, you got this DVD. Now they want to sell you a digital download that can only be played back on one media device. Oh and its the same price.. no disk.. no anything.

    As far as streaming... THAT ONE takes the cake. Now people can say whatever they want. Who pays for shows on the air? ... NOT the makers of the shows. The shows get made and priced by COMMERCIALS.

    The shows don't have a value beyond those commericals. Shows should be given out as torrents by the makers with the commercials IN the torrent file.

    Everyone would opt (I'll guess 95%) would download a torrent file with commercials in it. If that file were legit and fine to download.

    In short, if the idiots ever got on board to making bittorrent make sense by providing their shows in torrents with commercials. And providing video downloads at pricing that meets reasonable customer expectation, there would be a killing to be had.

  8. There's another aspect to all of this that I honestly don't think that the people behind Netflix/Qwixter/whatever bizarre name they're coming up with next have thought of (although it's hard to believe... no, it's not.) They're giving people a *reason* to feel morally justified in downloading everything through bittorrent. As in "If they hadn't screwed everything up so thoroughly, I would do it the 'right' way, but as it is..." Any businessperson with a rudimentary brain in his/her/its head should know better than to ever, ever, E.V.E.R. do this.

    Getting entertainment through legitimate means (or not) has always been based on the social contract. It's one of the reasons why we haven't all just obtained our videos by robbing Blockbuster for years now. It doesn't seem right. But one of the biggest reasons for everyone to uphold our end of the social contract here has just been removed. Why should we do it? They don't. They can't treat the consumer with anything resembling respect. Now, *I* don't think I'll do it, because it really isn't worth it to me... but I'd be a lot happier just sending the money directly to the people responsible for making the films, and I suspect that a lot of others feel the same way. The middlemen have now proven that they don't deserve their cut.

  9. I feel you about the Netflix/Qwikster thing. I'll be keeping the DVDs because that's where all the movies/shows ARE. I guess I'm just frustrated because now doing it illegally is easier than streaming. I'd have even ponied up to pay more for DVDs if that's what it came to to have the two services integrated.

  10. I think your comments on the social contract are spot on. However, look at the contracts and the studios.

    Netflix was given the contract by Starz several years ago because Starz thought, hey we will get a few million bucks, and this company won't survive in this market. Free money for us. They felt there was no way Netflix would be able to pull this off.

    Netflix succeeded though. And when their contract was up Starz wanted a lot more cash for the same deal. (They actually wanted premium pricing and model control too).

    In short, it's not the middleman being the complete jerk. It's also the content provider deeming that their content is SO GREAT, they should dictate pricing.

    The simple truth is, if media was offered at an honest rate. The populace, us, would buy it. Netflix actually did a great job here. And we need to make sure we all understand honest rates. Most TV shows and series are paid for via commercials. It is EXTRA money a studio gets by putting them out on blue ray and other medium. Some people WANT a physical package.

    However, if you don't want it. How much is it worth to see that stuff? Stuff already paid for to produce. It's some hard drive space and the streaming space. Wait you can get netflix to do all that with a license? Just give them the files and they will give you a kickback of the stuff?

    Seemed like a nice deal to me.

    Movies, on the other hand are NOT paid for by commercials. So maybe they can do more lucrative contracts there.

    But in the end, this is middlemen and studios being greedy. Yes... They have the RIGHT to SELL their stuff for whatever price THEY dictate.

    But that's exactly WHY a pirate feels there is no moral issue involved with bit-torrent. ;)

    When people move from their dinosaur, stone age thinking into a method of, hey, how do we price this and set it up so we make money AND look like heroes, and people feel, this is great, its not stealing! Then they will win. Right now.. Pirates think of themselves as virtual Robin Hoods!

  11. I have slowly become more dependent on Youtube so that a lot of the shows I watch (and I mean A LOT), I usually watch there or on dailymotion. I've only used my friend's netflix account so if she's terminates it, I'll be okay.

    As for Facebook, if you have 400 friends (like some of my friends do) then the new changes are probably great but I only have 84 so I'm not really the target group for it. I decided to get a google+ account so that I can quietly jump ship.

  12. I think I'm going to be switching over to Amazon Prime after their announcement today. Netflix incited rage with their shenanigans.

  13. Ironically, I am adding more social networks and using ALL of them far less. In the end, I am spending less time on the computer and more time going out in public and meeting up with people who actually live in my area. It sort of sucks because I live in hell's armpit and the social buffet is a little dull. However, I'm...happier. I feel less tied to my computer. I gave up Netflix when the first of the changes came about and didn't regret it much. My Kindle took the spending well. I'd rather read anyway. :)