In an effort to push ahead with fresh technology, reduce overhead and increase profits, Netflix is moving forward with its plan to enter the realm of online-only entertainment.
Earlier this week, the company upset many of its customers by removing the “Add To DVD Queue” option from streaming devices.
But while most of the anger likely comes from expectations (subscribers who pay for both DVDs and streaming video expect to get both), availability (not all DVDs are available to stream), and functionality (whereas a DVD player can be taken anywhere, streaming video requires a broadband Internet connection), there is one persistent issue that everyone seems to ignore: the online-only dream is a nightmare waiting to happen.
In a perfect world, the Internet would be flawless. It would be immeasurably fast, unbelievably reliable, and impervious to hackers, hiccups, and other hazards that could keep us from enjoying our favourite forms of entertainment. But while we have seen an impressive increase in connection speeds since the Internet’s proliferation in the early ’90s, we have yet to see a significant increase in overall stability.
Without question, today’s broadband connections are more reliable than they were six or seven years ago. But connections are still being lost. Comcast and other Internet providers still struggle to keep everyone online at all times. Websites are still being overloaded. They still crash, and they still get hacked. These are just a few of the problems that have plagued the Internet from day one and still plague the Internet today, thus begging the question: why should we put all of our eggs into one, problematic basket and assume everything will be OK?
With DVDs, you can pop a disc into your player and watch a film without issue. Films can be obtained locally at a brick-and-mortar retailer or by mail from websites like Amazon. They can be rented from Netflix or from more traditional mum-and-pop locations. Whatever you crave, you’ve got options. If one location runs out of the film you’re looking for, you can always turn somewhere else.
Online, our options are severely limited. If your ISP (internet service provider) tanks, you’re screwed. If Netflix crashes, you’ll have to look elsewhere and will ultimately lose money. (Netflix subscribers pay a monthly fee regardless.) If you go to a friend or a relative’s house and they don’t have a broadband connection, you’re screwed again.
Of course, there is this radiant dream that each and every one of us will one day have access to Wi-Fi wherever we go. But until that technology arrives – and until it works properly, can withstand the United States’ growing population, and is secure enough to prevent hackers from tapping in – there’s little hope that Netflix will be able to fulfil its own dream.
As if this wound wasn’t already salty enough, in December CNBC reported on the winners and losers of the FCC’s new Internet regulations. Internet Service Providers – specifically Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable, topped the winners’ list. In a nutshell, the rules allow these companies to, as CNBC quotes, “manage their networks,” which gives them the freedom to charge companies for faster content delivery. (Another CNBC report indicates that consumers may be the ones who will be charged.)
In other words, Netflix, Google, and Amazon may have to pay Comcast and other ISPs to maximise the speed at which their video services are delivered. Though Microsoft and Sony weren’t on CNBC’s list of losers, both companies offer services that deliver video game downloads and multiplayer gameplay, as well movie, music and TV streams/downloads. If broadband ISPs have their way, expect all of these companies – along with Hulu, Howcast and other online video providers – to feel the burn.
So Netflix, tell me what you think: are DVDs really that bad?
— By Louis Bedigan
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