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"Very Long Wait"ing for Godot - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
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"Very Long Wait"ing for Godot
Not long ago, I mentioned that our Netflix DVD queue had shrunk to next to nothing, after years of having more than a dozen waiting to ship on our two-at-a-time plan at any given time. Some of this was because Eleanor, in pre-cataract surgery days, just stopped adding things to the list. Another reason, I suspected (and I now think I was wrong), was connected to the service's purge of hundreds of back-catalog titles around the first of this year; I later learned that had to do with streaming licensing fees and shouldn't have affected the availability of physical DVDs they already owned.

The service has always been go-to for us on account of the depth of their inventory.  If we want a new release, we'll buy it or Redbox it; but using the disks for old 80s-to-oughts cinema friends, or to watch early episodes of a later-loved TV series, was a useful tool. And it was rare for anything to be delayed in shipment by a long, much less a "very long wait."

Not any more.

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At first, I thought it was just viewers putting runs on suddenly popular back issues; it was understandable that Mona Lisa would have a wait after Bob Hoskins died, or that Doubt's prompt arrival would be doubtful after the death of PSH. But others, seemingly having no special rush on them, have continued to be very long waited here. Say Amen, Somebody-a musical Eleanor fondly remembers. Russian Dolls-the sequel to L'Auberge Espagnole that I just discovered to exist. Just today,  something called Ordinary Decent Criminal, an Irish crime piece featuring Keyser Soze and Bethany the Mother of God from Dogma.

Very long wait, very long wait, don't tell me: another VLW.

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Eleanor was just talking about this with someone at work, who suspects it's a form of "throttling." But I doubt that; we tend to hang on to disks for days if not weeks at a time, and I suspect we're way below the average for number of them a month. More likely, it's an indirect way of their trying, again, to change their business model to get away from the physical shipments and to wean us off them and onto all streaming all the time.

Remember Qwikster?  It was Netfix's version of New Coke- a marketing plan that fell on its face so fast, and so flat, it never came close to getting off the ground:

CEO Reed Hastings announced on Sept. 18 [2011] that the company's movies-by-mail service would be rebranded as Qwikster and would add video games to its catalog, while the Netflix brand would be dedicated to streaming video.

Now Netflix is abandoning that plan.

"Instead, U.S. members will continue to use one website, one account and one password for their movie and TV watching enjoyment under the Netflix brand," the company said in a statement.

Netflix issued its second mea culpa in as many months, acknowledging the consumer outrage about its Qwikster announcement.

"Consumers value the simplicity Netflix has always offered and we respect that," Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings said. "There is a difference between moving quickly -- which Netflix has done very well for years -- and moving too fast, which is what we did in this case."

The company had already lost an estimated 1 million customers, or about 4% of its subscribers, after Netflix split its DVD and streaming businesses in July, effectively raising prices on subscribers of both by 60%


What this looks like, now, is that they are attempting to do by attrition what they couldn't do by edict: make us just give up. Why? This site from this past October suggests some reasons:

On January 2014, the Postal Service is going to once again increase postage fees. Further increases in coming years are inevitable. Netflix can either decide to eat those extra pennies per envelope it sends out, thereby further decreasing the amount of money DVDs will contribute to the company’s profits. Or it could raise prices for DVD subscriptions, which could rapidly accelerate the subscriber exodus.

Finally, there’s industry politics. After being blindsided by the rapid decline of the home DVD business, Hollywood is trying to fix the floodgates and once again get consumers to value the ownership of its movies. Studios have begun to increase prices for digital rentals to make digital sales more attractive.

They’ve banded together to promote digital lockers that tie physical media to streaming access, and they’re trying to make it less profitable to undercut the sale of physical as well as digital media with cheap rentals. That’s why studios have forced new windows upon kiosk operators like Redbox, and that’s why Netflix increasingly has to strike deals with studios to get access to DVDs – something that the company pointed to in its most recent Q2 filing as a reason for DVDs being less profitable than they could have been under other circumstances.


We're starting to see some of this studio pushback to independent entities making money off their product. Last week, partly for Em's graduation but also Just Because, I bought some new DVDs, and the push is definitely on to keep the entire movie experience within the studio's control. Your purchase also gets you a digital download, so no need to buy that pesky streaming stuff.  And while the studios can't control the redistribution of physical disks under something called the "first-sale doctrine," they sure as hell can control the price of the product when it IS sold that first time, to discourage diskshippers from building or replenishing a back catalog.

I suspect that's part of what is happening: studios are no longer engaging in the equivalent of $4 bargain bins for their back titles, making it harder for Netflix to replenish and extend its inventories of them and causing these Very Long Waits.  Which seem fine with them anyway, since they'd rather avoid the postage increases and those piddling labor costs in those Nearest Netflix Shipping Facilities where human beings have to actually open, restock and send out the items.

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Can a streaming-only world solve this problem? Not right away, and maybe not ever.

For one thing, relatively few of the Movies We Love are even available streaming, since the rights to exhibit them that way are separate from the rights obtained when a disk is First-Sold to them, so those rights are subject to negotiation and, lately, the studios seem to be winning those.  Even if they had unlimited streaming inventory, though? It's not the same. Streaming titles do not always have subtitles, and they never have the bonus materials or the control over the content that comes with a fully functional DVR remote. Yes, Netflix "remembers your place," usually; but it's near impossible to rewind, pause and suspend viewing with the same control as with the actual disk in an actual player.  Plus, now that Net Neutrality is largely a thing of the past, the speed and maybe even content of those streams will largely be determined by the cable providers on the other end of the box. Currently, for us, that's an affiliate of Warner Brothers; if a humongomerger goes through with Comcast later this year, our streams will instead be controlled by the parent company of NBC-Universal.  Want to watch a stream of the final Letterman episode? Not a problem, if you don't mind him looking and sounding like Max Headroom; wouldn't you rather watch Jimmy Fallon on NBC in living color?

It's enough to make me miss my Betamaxes. We have to keep the service- the kids use the streaming all the time- but in time, we may have little option but to reduce or remove the physical disks. Because at our ages, Very Long Waits may be just too long.

(Final ironies for 800, Alex: there actually is a film version of Waiting for Godot available through Netflix. I just queued it; there's no wait for it.)
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ellettra From: ellettra Date: June 2nd, 2014 10:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't even have a physical DVD player any more!! I'm fully on board with streaming. But then again, I generally don't have a problem acquiring what I want to watch, although THAT being said, I've moved waaaaay far away from shadier forms of acquisition now that hulu and netflix and whatnot exist.
symian From: symian Date: June 4th, 2014 04:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I just canceled Netflix. It just wasn't good enough anymore.
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