Taking A Break From Netflix

Netflix MailerThis week I decided to suspend my Netflix membership after continuously using the service since 2005.  I’ve been mulling over this for the past several months but finally decided it’s time to try something new.  It’s a combination of several factors that has led to this decision. First, my lifestyle and job have changed and I have less free time to devote to watching movies. Second, rentals from other sources such as AppleTV, Amazon Unbox (via my TiVo HD) and services like Red Box or Blockbuster Express offer additional options. Third, and perhaps most significantly, a growing delay in the ability to rent popular titles.

Netflix changed the movie rental market forever with its business model. I haven’t stepped foot in a traditional movie rental store since activating my Netflix subscription. In fact, the idea now seems so old fashioned. Who would want to drive to a rental store, suffer the limited selection and frequent inability to rent the newest titles? Inevitably,   you wouldn’t get around to watching the movie until the day it was due and someone would get stuck driving back to the rental store in their PJs in order to avoid a ridiculous late fee. No, thank you!

Unfortunately, the rental market is changing again, and Netflix may be struggling to keep up the pace. Now, I don’t even want to wait the reasonable two business days for my Netflix movies to arrive. I want to be able to turn on the TV, push a button and have the movie come to me. Netflix offers streaming, and the service beats almost anything offered by the competition.  But the service has suffered from the random availability of titles and the near non-existent availability of new releases. You may add a title to your instant streaming queue and a month later it’s unavailable.

Netflix isn’t all to blame for the availability problems. I’m sure they would love nothing more than to have every single movie available for instant HD streaming. Sadly, the movie studios are trying to hold on to a dying revenue scheme and are putting the brakes on the innovation companies like Netflix are trying to bring.

In an effort to focus more attention on the streaming service, Netflix is striking deals with the studios that further limit their ability to offer new releases. Just a few months ago, Netflix inked a deal with Warner Brothers whereby new release titles wouldn’t be available for rent until 28 days following their release for sale. Redbox recently had to make similar concessions in order to settle litigation with Warner.

What sealed the deal for me was a growing inability to access new releases. Since very few new release movies are available for streaming I have no choice but to add the physical DVD to my queue. Over the past few months I’ve noticed the wait time for new DVDs growing longer and longer. Recently, I had four new releases at the top of my queue, all with “very long waits.” It was over a month of waiting for these movies before I finally received one. Some people have speculated that Netflix is buying fewer movies in an effort to save costs. Perhaps it’s just a growth in membership as more physical rental locations close. Whatever the reason, the ultimate result is longer delays and the push by the movie theaters to delay new release rentals will only compound the problem.

By contrast, a recent check of the iTunes store showed that every one of the four titles Netflix was showing as a “very long wait” was available to rent instantly. This was a pleasant surprise as iTunes also has to deal with the studios pressure to push back the availability of rentals. While there may be a delay in the rental availability of a DVD compared with the sale date, at least with iTunes I’ll be able to rent the movie as soon as it’s available rather than taking my chances with Netflix availability.

For now, I’ve placed my Netflix account on a 3 month hold to see how the other options compare. I spend roughly $9 a month on my Netflix subscription, and on a typical month watch maybe 3 movies. With $2.99 iTunes and Amazon Unbox rentals and $1 a night Redbox and Blockbuster Express rentals, my bet is that I’ll spend the same or less money every month and actually watch more of the movies I want when I want.

So, Netflix and I are taking a break from each other while I experiment with other movie delivery methods. We’ll see how it goes and I’ll report back later with an update. The good news is I can restart my queue with a few simple mouse clicks.