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Forget About the 60% Netflix Price Hike: If You Stream, You Lose the Queue

Photo of Dana Harris By Dana Harris | Indiewire July 14, 2011 at 7:58AM

We've seen a lot of angry comments since the Netflix announcement that it would raise the price of unlimited DVDs and streaming to $15.98 per month. However, the worse may be yet come.
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We've seen a lot of angry comments since the Netflix announcement that it would raise the price of unlimited DVDs and streaming to $15.98 per month. However, the worse may be yet come.

As Reuters' Felix Salmon pointed out (with smart reinforcement from Filmmaker magazine editor Scott Macaulay), if you opt for the streaming-only option, you lose the queue.

This is stunning for a couple of reasons. First is that with the queue, Netflix succeeded in creating the rarest of marketing tools: The product-specific noun-verb. While you might say of a film, "I'll put it in my queue," you might equally say, "I'll queue it." And either way, people knew you were talking about Netflix.

And then there was the fact that the queue was a beautiful tool for film lovers. Per Salmon:

The queue was a great way of putting together a list of movies you really wanted to see, and then going through them slowly, at your own pace. Sometimes certain movies weren’t available, but that was OK — there were always other movies that were available, and you knew that sooner or later the ones that weren’t available would show up.

And while there is still an "instant queue," there's no way to add movies to the queue that aren't yet available for streaming. Request Jim Jarmusch's "Down By Law" at Netflix Instant and you'll find that it's not only unavailable for streaming, it's unavailable for queueing.

Naturally, Netflix suggests you could watch it on DVD for an additional $7.99 per month. You'll also get the suggestion that you might instead want to stream "Dead Man" (starring Johnny Depp) or "Buffalo 66."

If you request a movie for streaming and it's unavailable, "it shows that you made the request and it goes into the database," says Steve Swayse, Netflix's VP of corporate communications.

But as far as letting you know if and when that movie shows up? Not going to happen. As Macaulay points out, "the value of extreme convenience has also shaped our experience of the thing itself."

However, while users lose the luxury of keeping track of the films they want to see, Netlix doesn't. All that data goes toward improving their algorithms, which will become so improved that, Swayse says, "the queue is not as vital."

Swayse says that the popularity of Netflix on devices like Xbox and PS3 make the queue something of a "throwback" to the days of DVDs. He promises, "We're continually improving the algorithms to recommend TV and movies that you're going to love."

Where do arthouse movies figure in that queueless equation? For Netflix, they literally don't matter. For starters, they're on the secondary platform: TV drives their business. As Swayse says, it's about TV and movies. And lest you think that phrasing is an accident, check out the Netflix listing on Google: "Netflix - Watch TV Shows Online, Watch Movies Online." There's no bigger online dis than secondary SEO placement.

So what happens to the arthouse films? Do they migrate to Mubi, Fandor, iTunes, Hulu or (indieWIRE parent) SnagFilms?

Whatever the answer might be, clearly it's not a question that troubles Netflix. The streaming homepage doesn't even bother with an indie or arthouse category; if you scroll all the way to the bottom, you'll find a category called "Cerebral Movies." Wow, that sounds like fun. (Currently, its top titles include "Rubber," "Food, Inc.," "Memento" -- and inexplicably, "Star Trek: The Next Generation.")

So, indieWIRE readers: What are you going to do? Continue with Netflix? DVDs, streaming or both? Will you turn to another streaming outlet? If so, which one?

This article is related to: New Media & Technology





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