Netflix, What Is It And Should I Sign Up?

Net­flix is the most suc­cess­ful Video On Demand provider in the US. And despite its impres­sive attempt at shoot­ing itself in the foot last year by need­less­ly solv­ing a non-exis­tent prob­lem, it’s like­ly to remain so for the fore­see­able future.

For a small month­ly fee (€7 in Ire­land), they give you access to their library of films and tele­vi­sion series, which you can then stream as many as you like of via your inter­net connection.

So its prin­ci­ple sell­ing points are, that on the one hand you don’t waste any of your pre­cious hard dri­ve space, as all of the titles are stored cen­tral­ly by Net­flix. And on the oth­er, you have an exten­sive and lim­it­less choice of titles to pick from. So, your access to the inter­net aside, what’s it like?

Well it’s cer­tain­ly easy to sign up to, and they pride them­selves on mak­ing it as pain­less as pos­si­ble to unsub­scribe from as well. The idea being, that the ser­vice they pro­vide is some­thing you can come back to at your leisure, when some­thing you see there catch­es your eye. And I imag­ine that many of the peo­ple who availed of their intro­duc­to­ry free month tri­al will very prob­a­bly con­tin­ue to sub­scribe sub­se­quent­ly. After all, you real­ly only need to see a cou­ple of films, or a tv series in any giv­en month to jus­ti­fy the price of €7.

But if they’re hop­ing to make a seri­ous dent in the mar­ket on this side of the Atlantic, then they’ll have to sig­nif­i­cant­ly expand the num­ber of titles they give you to choose from. Nat­u­ral­ly they’re only start­ing up now, and it’s very much a work in progress, but it is none the less a dis­ap­point­ing­ly lim­it­ed selection.

On a more gen­er­al lev­el, what impact is stream­ing going to have on our every day lives? Well, as with most things con­nect­ed with the inter­net, it’s not so much the death of one thing and the birth of the next, as it is a re-imag­in­ing of the over­all landscape.

Just as cin­e­ma was not in fact killed off by the advent of tele­vi­sion, and then video, dvd, cable and satel­lite. On the con­trary, it was strength­ened with their arrival by hav­ing its reach sig­nif­i­cant­ly extend­ed. In effect, they pro­vide cin­e­ma with what amounts to a whole new mar­ket in which to prof­it from. So too the inter­net, and specif­i­cal­ly stream­ing will serve to yet fur­ther extend that reach, and to ever more firm­ly bind them all together.

The rea­son why stream­ing can nev­er replace cin­e­ma or indeed tele­vi­sion is sim­ple. It’s com­plete­ly reliant on the Hol­ly­wood stu­dios that make so much of all the film and tele­vi­sion that peo­ple most want to see for all its con­tent. And those stu­dios are only every going to drip feed the likes of Net­flix after their cash cows, the Har­ry Pot­ters and the Bat­mans, have duly earnt their crust in cin­e­mas and on main­stream tele­vi­sion first.

The only way around that is for Net­flix to begin pro­duc­ing its own con­tent, which is exact­ly what it’s begun doing. But it can no more be cer­tain of pro­duc­ing the next sure fire hit than any­one else can, and would need in effect to become a rival stu­dio in order to be able to com­pete on a lev­el play­ing field. Which is of course what Sky has done by join­ing forces with 20th Cen­tu­ry Fox. So rather than replac­ing any­thing, stream­ing becomes one more arm in an over­all, glob­al media strategy.

But the main and most obvi­ous rea­son why stream­ing is most like­ly to add to rather than sub­tract from how we watch and lis­ten to films, tele­vi­sion and music is quite sim­ply numbers.

In 1920, the world passed the two bil­lion mark. Since then, it’s more than tre­bled, and by the mid­dle of this cen­tu­ry that num­ber will have more than quadru­pled. Fur­ther­more, the num­ber of peo­ple who now live in what is known as the devel­oped world has explod­ed over the same peri­od. So there are incal­cu­la­bly more peo­ple now all try­ing to watch and lis­ten to the same sorts of things.

Add to that the fact all sur­veys sug­gest that those who do down­load, whether legal­ly or ille­gal­ly, tend to spend more than they used to on their enter­tain­ment, and it all points to the same thing. Stream­ing is one more means for a huge­ly enhanced land­scape to expand even further.