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by Dana Harris
July 14, 2011 7:58 AM
19 Comments
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Forget About the 60% Netflix Price Hike: If You Stream, You Lose the Queue

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?

19 Comments

  • james | October 10, 2012 1:21 AMReply

    Others have said it better, so I'll just make it quick. Today I could not use the instant queue for my ps3. Now my ps3 no longer has the app for netflix on it. There is absolutely no point in taking up that space on my system since I will no longer be using it to watch netflix. If this happens on my computer version I will cancel netflix.

  • Julia Nakhleh | August 11, 2011 5:26 AMReply

    The queue is my brain, it is my memory. When I hear of a movie being released in the theater, I add it to my saved queue, knowing one day it will show up at my home. Why can't I have a "saved instant queue" that will keep track of movies that I want to see, and then move them over to my instant queue when they become available for streaming? It seems so simple. Netflix just doesn't get it. What happens if you have something on your streaming queue and it's no longer available for streaming? Does it disappear off of your queue? Would it reappear if it ever became available for streaming again? If Netflix weren't the best game in town (i.e. available on my xbox, ps3, wii, and home computer) I'd cancel them in a flash, but as it is, I think I will have to keep DVD and streaming to maintain my queue. Yes, I could keep my own list locally on my computer, but then I'd have to go through it every so often to see what has become available instantly. Too much of a pain.

  • Alan | July 24, 2011 1:55 AMReply

    The point here is that with Streaming only, you will now have absolutely no way to save movies that you hear about that you might want to see one day unless they are available right at that moment as Instant. I have always saved movies to my queue when they were released and it they became available instantly, it was easy to tell. Movies go in and out of instant availability and there is no way to know when that is happening. The thing is that this is so silly and unnecessary. Why not allow you to keep a running list of all movies you want to see, separate from what is available to you right now?

  • J.D. | July 20, 2011 2:37 AMReply

    I may actually switch from the streaming only account I had to a DVD only because I can't find a THING to watch on streaming anymore. Check out Netflix's responses on their Facebook page - they are absolutely flippant in their responses to people's complaints. Does this company need an attitude adjustment or what? Makes me want to cancel just to punish them.

  • Dana Harris | July 17, 2011 3:30 AMReply

    I'm glad there are end runs for DVD queue preservation, but keep in mind that Netflix's not-so-long-term goal is to get out of the DVD business altogether. Presumably that won't happen until there are significant improvements to their streaming offerings, but according to Netflix the streaming model will not have a queue that allows you to track films that you're interested in seeing but are as yet unavailable. Netflix touts algorithms as taking the place of that function (something I find more than a little creepy), but I think the reason for that change is they want to put their energies into films that will be streamed by the masses. The more obscure (i.e, Indie) titles will receive decreasing attention and Netflix doesn't want to be held to task on them; it's more cost effective to offer something that the algorithm perceives as similar.

  • J | July 16, 2011 1:27 AMReply

    Thanks for the verification on that ProgGrrl.

  • MIkeO | July 15, 2011 12:54 PMReply

    Want to make an impact on this questionable decision? Cancel the streaming portion of your Netflix account. You will save a few bucks, and Netflix ends up with the exact oppostie of what they wanted.

  • renee hillman | July 15, 2011 9:31 AMReply

    I love documentaries, and i will switch to snagfilms or cultureunplugged or hulu

  • ProgGrrl | July 15, 2011 7:49 AMReply

    I would like to point out what has happened to me: 1. I had a DVDs+Streaming account for a few years. 2. I decided to go Streaming Only and did so for 2 months. 3. I decided I wanted DVD service again and switched back to DVD+Streaming -- and my (huge) DVD Queue *reappeared*, same as it was before original change. Just so you know.

  • DumbCEO | July 15, 2011 7:00 AMReply

    Netflix is going down faster than any tech company out there. They are forgetting that content is king. Give people content, bundled, and lots of it and they will stick to you. Give them reason to leave (like these) and they will leave. Redbox is not pretentious. It is what it is. Go rent a movie. Return it. $1. No commitment. Same for Blockbuster. Youtube has gobs of money to acquire tons of indie / foreign titles that Netflix ignores. Are they retarded? Do they think that customers just want TV or big budget films? That's called CABLE.

  • FM | July 15, 2011 2:36 AMReply

    Netflix is still the best movie or TV-watching service that I have found, but man did they get rid of everything that gave them some personality. The "Friends" feature that allowed you to interact with other users was great as was the ability to create your own custom lists and share them. They have become so homogenized, but generic sells.

  • Dana Harris | July 15, 2011 1:57 AMReply

    Gus: That's a creative solution. And Greg, you're right in that the potential of losing the queue isn't entirely new. However, Netflix's changes in its price structure mean many people will make decisions about how to manage their accounts. Many of those people also love the queue and could well presume it follows them throughout the site. Of course, it doesn't.

    Perhaps a larger point is Netflix has decided the queue is an old-fashioned form of determining movie preferences; they want to wean users from the queue concept in favor of relying on their algorithms. Rather than you pulling in your choices, they want to push them to you.

    For me, the queue solutions don't work unless you decide to remain DVD only. Far too confusing and sort of beside the point if you used it as an ever-changing to-do list. And since it's clear that Netflix has pinned its future to queueless streaming, my bet that any queue solution will be a short-term one.

  • Matthew | July 15, 2011 1:37 AMReply

    You still have the instant queue, which is all you really need.

    The article makes a giant mountain out of a tiny molehill. The editor should have scrapped the entire article.

    Obviously if you do not have the dvd/blu ray service, you will not have the dvd/blu ray queue.

    Why would you think otherwise?

    They have always had the instant queue and they will continue to do so. And,if you only have the instant service, then this makes perfect sense.

  • Greg | July 15, 2011 1:12 AMReply

    I canceled my DVD subscription in Jan 2011, and I lost my DVD queue., so how is this news today? I was a bit upset by this, but as J in comment #4 stated, they will retain your queue for 2 years if you decide to re-subscribe. If you want to maintain your queue for the cheap, get the 2 dvd per month plan. That's only $4 or so if you do DVD-only.

  • CO | July 14, 2011 11:19 AMReply

    I plan to cancel streaming and keep mailing. :)

  • J | July 14, 2011 11:14 AMReply

    I called Netflix and spoke with them regarding this. The queue is kept for up to two years after you switch to instant only and will be reinstated if you switch to DVD only, but for the duration of the time you are in instant only you wont be able to access your DVD queue, and so will not be notified when movies that were formerly DVD only become available instantly. For people with hundreds of movies in both queues, this is a huge lost in functionality that makes switching to instant only an even more bitter pill. The person who I spoke with said they are doing this to avoid confusion on the part of the (instant only) customer when they add items to their queue, but this seems like a particularly crude way of doing so. It would at least be nice for them to have both DVD and instant queues available on the instant only plan as a (opt-in) choice.

  • J | July 14, 2011 10:26 AMReply

    The problem is that neither you nor netflix will be able to update it if you do that.

  • Gus | July 14, 2011 9:20 AMReply

    I just saved my queue as a web archive (or you could do it as a PDF) and open it locally whenever I need it. What's the problem with doing that?

  • jdoe | July 14, 2011 8:52 AMReply

    People threw a hissy fit the last time Netflix made some changes...and they just exploded
    their subscriber base and kept on motoring...understand this, Netflix wants to get rid of people who force them to pay thru the nose to mail dvds...they don't want you...streaming costs them virtually nothing compared to mailing discs so by quitting you will just increase their profits, they will not miss you