Not long ago, it seemed like worthless tech bloggers and journalists were all chattering about how Apple was keeping Adobe Flash off the iPhone and iPad so that they could monopolize digital content distribution and shut out anyone who tried to compete with the iTunes store. I meant to make another installment in my series on puncturing anti-iPad hype on why there was ample evidence that this line of argument was just plane wrong, but sue me, I’m lazy sometimes.
So, it comes as absolutely no surprise to me to learn that new of a Netflix streaming app for the iPad isn’t yet another annoying April Fools joke. Yes as TechCrunch has noticed, it’s the real deal, you can check for yourself in the App Store.
For those of you who weren’t following at home, various dumbasses were trying to convince us that that only option for rich media on the iPad was Flash, or nothing. For this to be true, you have to ignore all those apps in the iTunes store, including apps from companies that would seem to compete with Apple in the digital media distribution business, like Amazon Kindle and Stanza app for eBooks; Pandora, LastFM, and more for music, Joost, TV.com, and others for video.
Well, now we have another example. Netflix, which competes with Apple’s iTunes movie rental business by offering unlimited streaming for less than $10/month, whereas Apple’s rentals are something like $4/play.
Like everyone else on Netflix, I got e-mail yesterday letting me know that they’ll be discontinuing their profiles feature. This feature allowed customers to set up separate DVD rental queues for other members of their household under one account, and let the owners of those queues rate movies and get recommendations separately.
We haven’t really used the feature, but I find the move baffling. One commentator suggested it was a move to boost revenue, because it might drive some users to create separate accounts.
That may well be, but in the process of doing so, Netflix is destroying the investment of any customers who made use of profiles and were in the habit of rating DVDs. Presumably these ratings will end up pooled for the whole account., which is likely to reduce the overall quality of ratings for each member of the household (imagine a mother who rented a couple of Kung Fu movies a month, and what will happen when that gets mixed in with the dozen of teen and action movies the rest of the household rents). It also seems to reduce the amount of aggregate information that their recommendation engine has to work with.
It’s puzzling why Netflix is willing to piss off its most dedicated users. Perhaps it is easier to do if they rent more disks and therefore drive up costs. It could also be that Netflix has concluded that the value of the ratings and recommendations is lower than many outsiders thought. It was assumed that users would be less likely to switch to another service because they were getting value from the recommendations derived from their ratings. In addition, new users would start to see immediate value for rating movies because of the vast store of ratings data from other users that Netflix had to work with.
I have to wonder if somehow it has something to do with their attempts to build a video on demand business.
Last month I tried out Netflix’s streaming video service. I thought the price was right (free with most Netflix subscription plans), but the video quality was poor, like an old VHS tape recorded from TV. The selection was so so as well, but the all-you-can-eat price is right, especially compared to the $3-5/pop it costs to rent something on iTunes.
They.’ve recently addressed another issue. Roku has just released a $99 set top box that plays Netflix on demand. Netflix doesn’t have HD content (and I doubt that most people have internet connections that would be up to streamed HD), but the device is HD ready. I’ve been thinking of replacing the computer hooked to our TV with a smaller, more efficient device, but I’d been leaning back to using a computer so we could use netflix’s streaming. The Roku device solves that problem, but, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to play anything else. Too bad. I’d happily pay another $25-50 for something that would play content from a media server.
A few months after Netflix launched their “watch instantly” streaming feature I tried to get it running on the computer hooked to our TV. I didn’t get very far though, since it required WinXP, and the computer was (and still is) running windows 2000. In addition, our DSL speed at the time was only 1.5Mbps, which wasn’t enough for their top quality.
I decided to give it another shot though. I haven’t upgraded the TV computer, yet, so I thought I’d try and run it from VMWare Fusion on a Mac laptop I use. The good news is that it works — I thought that DRM restrictions would prevent it from working in a virtual machine.
The bad news is that the quality is truly mediocre, even using our 3Mbit connection, and from what I can tell, a faster connection won’t help.
It’s too bad, because the price is right, unlike the $3.99 rentals on iTunes. I only wish Netflix had the option to queue up a higher quality version to watch later.