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Did Netflix Just Price Me Out Of Impulse Watching?

Tuesday morning, I  (and probably many of you) got the email from Netflix we’ve been mildly dreading for some time now: They’re splitting the streaming and DVD service into two plans. No more free Instant along with my $9.99 one-DVD-at-a-time plan; now, for a combined $15.98, I can keep both. (What’s a difference of $5.99, you say? In this economy? Every dollar counts, bruv. Not to mention the principle of nearly doubling a monthly charge.)

I have to say, though, I’ve become quite spoiled with my Netflix Instant – despite the limited selection, despite the stuff that goes “poof” on a whim because of wonky rights issues (Bye, Bond films, you were fun while you lasted!) Not to mention I keep hearing Hulu Plus’s screen resolution beats the pants off Netflix. But Netflix does often stream films which are not available on DVD at all. And the number one reason why I’m so reticent to get rid of it is something I probably shouldn’t be willing to admit to in public, but hey… at the moment, I’m blaming it on lightheadedess due to muggy weather and scrambling to get my Comic-Con plans in order.

It’s the lure of the impulse watch – that TV show or film that, either out of nostalgia or curiosity or just plain masochism, you are compelled to stream because it’s not costing you anymore (well, at least it hasn’t up to now) and… it’s there.  Not to say that I haven’t spent worthwhile time on Instant – from long-unseen and beloved vintage SNL episodes to edgy classics like The Parallax View – but, hey, I’m only human. To wit, the five most incriminating impulse watches on my Instant record over the past few months:

Corvette Summer: It’s been a long time in the making, my re-watch of that eye-rollingly bad Mark Hamill headliner he made betwixt Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, which I had only seen once on afternoon TV when I was about eleven. Revelation!: It’s actually worse in its uncut version. And no one comes off well, not even Annie Potts who is sexy and adorable yet saddled with some of the worst ham-fistedly written dialogue for a lady that’s clearly written by a man ever. And I didn’t realize Danny Bonaduce and Wendie Jo Sperber and Dick Miller and Brion James were in it. And because I have a soft spot for vintage location shoots, the Hollywood Blvd. and Las Vegas strip footage was actually worth the look. (Never again, though.)

Moment By Moment: Admittedly, I didn’t get any further than 20-30 minutes into this because I couldn’t handle it.  I’d read such legendarily horrified accounts of shock and awe, one very recently, about how bad this Robert Stigwood-produced, cougar-meets-boy toy romance starring Lily Tomlin and John Travolta (yes, really) is, and they weren’t wrong. How bad could it be? Sweet Jesus, you have to see it. Or see as much as you can stomach before you start shrieking and jabbing the “stop” button like a miniature low-rent game of Whack-A-Mole. No two stars have ever had less chemistry, which makes sense if you realize – as many writers before me have, astutely – that Tomlin is a dead ringer for Travolta’s sister, Ellen. Ewwww. A brilliant example of why the added-value aspect of Instant was so great; I don’t feel like I’m wasting money if I just turn it off, for the love of all that is good and pure. I’M SORRY.

Solarbabies: I point the finger of blame squarely at io9 for this one, making me realize this was one of those legendary 80’s duds I’d actually never gotten around to seeing. Oh, that I could retroactively purge my curiosity. And I did make it the whole way through, though I’m not sure if it was because Richard Jordan’s particular brand of ham is so greasy and delicious; or out of cockeyed nostalgia for Jami Gertz’s six-inch-high ratted up bangs, which I hadn’t seen since the girl bullies in my seventh grade class; or because jailbait!Adrian Pasdar in braids kinda made my head spin. It wouldn’t have been awaiting an explanation for what Bodai the weather-controlling sphere of light actually is, or what the hell it has to do with anything. I figured out early on I’d get no explanation for that.


Voltron Vol. 6: Yeah, you heard me… Vehicle Voltron. I willingly sat down to watch an episode of Voltron – several in fact – that was not the sainted Lion Voltron. What of it? Come at me, bro! Okay, I will admit in so much as both English dubbings were pale comparisons of the original anime, the big metal cats on planet Ares did have a stronger adaptation. I don’t know, though, maybe it’s my inherent love of shows with sprawling casts and murky relationships (Is Jeff in love with Lisa, or is he doing the Air Team mambo with Ginger? That shit still bugs me!), but I always had a soft spot for the populous Dairugger crew. No matter how ridiculous the voice-overs. (Why is Cric apparently Indian, but none of the other blue aliens have an accent? Oh, forget it.)

ABBA: The Movie: Let’s just cut to the chase on this one: I fucking love ABBA, so there. Admittedly, my love doesn’t always extend to all things ABBA related (I do like Chess quite a bit, but was never in love with Mamma Mia!), but I love them almost as much as the swag green foliage slipcover for my IKEA loveseat. (And in the case of “SOS,” probably more.) Years ago I saw a bad, bad print of this movie – an oddball early entry on Lasse Hallstrom’s CV, incorporating concert footage with a fictional yarn about an Aussie reporter’s hapless attempts to get an interview with the band – with my friend and fellow ABBA nerd Wendy Gilmartin at the Egyptian, and for days we couldn’t stop laughing at the dream sequence set to “The Name of the Game” where the reporter fantasizes about not only getting his ABBA interview but like, totally being their best friend and shit. (Well, at least he’s best buddies with Bjorn and Benny; Frida and Agnetha clearly wanna get in his pants as fast as possible.)  How could I possibly give up the Instant opportunity to fast-forward straight to this scene and watch it three times in a row until my sides hurt from laughing so much? I COULD NOT. Amazing.

Conclusion: I feel better for having admitted all of that. And I’m nowhere closer to deciding if I’m going to keep Instant or not. Bugger. Suggestions, Nerdists?

UPDATE: Yeah, our first round of commenters are probably right: Keep Instant, dump DVDs is probably the way to go. Two years from now, Netflix may not even be in the disc business anymore…

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  1. Jon says:

    Definitely going to dump streaming, but may keep DVDs…here’s why: Netflix’s instant catalog has been pretty stagnant lately, and seems to keep getting worse (and I’ll make no further mention of the horrible user interface). Say you want to watch Classic Dr Who… Netflix WI has a small sample, but Amazon Prime has much more, and even more are available on disc. Plus you can watch a whole ton of episodes for free at daily motion.

    In terms of other shows, HBO, AMC, Showtime etc all have almost no participation in WI. That means you have to get these shows on discs. And movies? WI has such a poor selection that you’ll be hard pressed to find anything save for cult favorites. Even their classics selection are dwindling, now that Kurosawa films are gone, the few pixar they had, gone, etc.

    So it doesn’t leave you with much that isn’t also on Prime, Hulu Plus, etc. Want to watch Heroes or The Event? Have fun, because Watch Instant isn’t left with much else.

  2. Sophie says:

    You’re American, yes? Then dump DVDs, keep Instant. Anyone in any other country, however, is already familiar with the hours and hours of nerdy frustration that Instant provides, with so many opportunities for a shout of “Oh, sweet! Buffy! Wait- what do you mean not available in your region? Christ on a crutch, why? WHY LORD HATH YOU FORSAKEN ME?!

  3. Sophie says:

    You’re American, yes? Then dump DVDs, keep Instant. Anyone in any other country, however, is already familiar with the hours and hourse of nerdy frustration that Instant provides, with so many opportunities for a shout of “Oh, sweet! Buffy! Wait- what do you mean not available in your region? Christ on a crutch, why? WHY LORD HATH YOU FORSAKEN ME?!

  4. Blair Slavin says:

    “Ray84” – Just so you know, only some of the Hulu+ content is available to stream to your Roku (some is Web Only from the same TV stations but different shows, go figure)

    I currently have Netflix streaming (and 1 blu-ray disk at a time) and Apple TV and Roku. I use the Apple TV now for streaming stuff from my computer (that I rip from netflix DVD’s) and steaming from my iPad and iPhone. I have no cable or over the air access to TV. I barely get any tv viewing done as it is. YET, I will currently hold onto my whole Netflix Disk / Stream set-up as the selection for new movies is more centered to Disc and I don’t go out to see movies that much any more (except for Blockbusters) So your plan is fine, as long as you are cool with Hulu+ sometimes has to be watched on your computer.

  5. Blair Slavin says:

    PS. On the matter of Hulu+ vs Netflix Video Quality… if you use the Roku 1080p model ($79) the resolution of either is great. I now watch Netflix on the Roku as oppossed to Apple TV for this reason alone. Chances are high you have a Roku since your watching Amazon Streaming and Hulu+ on your TV. (well most of your TV for Hulu+)

  6. Blair Slavin says:

    Could the lack of chemistry of Lilly Tomlin and John Travolta in Moment By Moment be more to the fact that one actor is an out of the closet gay person and the other is an 3/4 of the way in the closet gay person? Plus neither really has much in the way of acting chops unless it is comedy or intensity?

  7. Ben says:

    My wife and I were talking about this last night. We’ve been Netflix customers for about 6 years, and I’ve been anticipating these kinds of price increases. The costs for the company have to be crazy with purchasing discs, shipping, paying for rights, maintaining servers (because god forbid something doesn’t work), etc. I wasn’t surprised by the announcement. What did surprise is the amount of vitriol and hate that spewed forth (but hey, it’s the Internet). Even with my 2 Blu-Rays at a time and instant streaming, I still feel like it’s the best deal out there. With the cost of driving to a Blockbuster/Red Box or the lack of as much content on Hulu Plus (at least for me), I just don’t see why we wouldn’t stick with Netflix. At some point, the costs will level out, especially once they abandon discs (and who knows, this may be a test to see which generates more revenue, discs or streaming). All in all, I’m sticking with what we got because we find real value in it, even with the increases.

  8. Amanda says:

    There are so many amazing shows that Netflix doesn’t stream yet, like True Blood, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. Will HBO/Showtime/AMC make deals with Netflix to have their content available through the service? If I gave up my DVD subscription, then I’d go crazy not being able to watch these because I can’t afford cable. Unfortunately, now I’m starting to feel like I can’t even afford Netflix. I’ll probably be putting my service on hold indefinitely, now.

  9. Rob O. says:

    The e-mail was indeed dreadful to receive, but I’m rather torn. I rely on the DVD portion to get HBO/Showtime shows that either never seem to make it to Streaming, or take too long to do so. Occassionally we pick up new films as they come out, but I may opt to drop the DVD rentals — wait until there are several DVDs that I want to watch, and then pay for the 3-at-a-time deal and go on a DVD spree for a month.

    I just wish I knew if this WAS an attempt to phase out the DVDs, because then maybe that would give me some hope of seeing so many of their “DVD Only” options finally available on Streaming (I must watch “Stay Tuned” again!).

  10. [email protected] (not Patrick) says:

    I went with the maximum 2 per-month Blu-Ray DVD option. I think the last time I streamed anything was back in March, so I was not about to pay $8 for something I wasn’t using. As an earlier poster said, their customer service has been superb. I want to see movies in blu-ray quality, so it fits my needs perfectly. I completely understand having to change your pricing model to compete, so I am grateful that they still have an option to fit my needs.

  11. Patrick says:

    I read an article a while back that said Netflix wanted to be out of the DVD business by 2012. Sounds like they’re off to a good start.

  12. Jim says:

    I’m not spamming or anything, but Amazon Prime’s selection is getting better and the interface is a bit easier imo, I think it is likely to become the better competion to Netflix as they could all out put on crushing blitz of capital into the service if they wanted and it’s $70 a year. Plus you get free 2 day shipping.

  13. Anthony Groen says:

    ugh! this blows so hard. except it seems that instant is obviously the way to go, unless you are dying for some DVD-only special features (but then you should probably just buy the DVD).

    my major annoyance is that the current price for unlimited streaming and 1 dvd a time WAS PERFECT! i don’t know that i want to pay 15 for both, or even 8 for streaming only (especially if i can’t find what i want to watch on streaming). fucking netflix and their entertainment strangle hold

  14. Gaynol says:

    We’re dumping the streaming and keeping the DVDs. We don’t have that much viewing time and I don’t want to watch a show or a movie just because I can see it instantly. The streaming selection isn’t that good and I’d rather wait for something I really want to see than just fill up the time with a crappy movie or tv show.

  15. I have to say that I would pay up to $30 a month for a version of Netflix that streams absolutely everything they have on DVD. Maybe get more new content, more TV content. Netflix+ or something

  16. Ray84 says:

    I would like some input…

    I plan to cancel the dvd through the mail and keep the streaming portion from netflix.

    I currently stream through apple tv. I plan to invest in a roku box to get HULU PLUS which apple tv does not offer (will it ever?).

    I know I’ll be paying the same amount but Hulu Plus sounds pretty awesome.

    Is what I want to do a good or bad idea?

  17. PSpeed42 says:

    I have the four disc a month + blu-ray plan… so this only turns into about a 10% hike for me. Totally reasonable. Especially since I nerfed cable a long time ago to only basic.

    I actually believe that the entire point is to shake off the 1-dvd folks who were on the fence about going streaming only “just in case”. Still, I may drop the discs or cut them back, too… I’ve had the same four out for four months or more but watching streaming at least once a day.

    Netflix will always have a soft spot in my heart because they gave me a service when no one else would do it right and their customer service has been top notch. They will get a ton of slack from me.

  18. Jenny says:

    I’m agreeing with most of the folks on this one- had dvds & streaming & have dumped the dvds- I haven’t used streaming that much lately because I’ve been busy with other stuff, but I know I still have series 1-4 of Doctor Who to watch all of, so I’ll keep it around for those rainy days.

  19. Scott S says:

    It’s new movies and old movies that tend to be hard to find on streaming. There aren’t so many black and white movies, and you never know if the big movies of today will ever find their way to streaming, so I watch the discs as they come in, then stream a movie every other day or so along with the TV shows that I stream in between. I don’t really want to pay more, but I think the way the streaming selection is right now I’m best served by just paying more and keeping both.

  20. Robin says:

    I’m gonna keep the DVDs (for now) and dump the instant. I already have Hulu Plus instead of cable, so I can see new shows they day after they air on my TV. And Netflix doesn’t have a streaming library that’s nearly comprehensive enough yet to make it worth it. Once they start getting things like recent seasons of True Blood, Dexter, and Mad Men I might be convinced to switch, but there’s a lot they just don’t have right now.

  21. Curtis says:

    Man, if Netflix offered half the selection up here in Canada as they do in the states, I would GLADLY pay $16. I’m perplexed by all the complaining, but then, we haven’t been spoiled by Hulu, either.

  22. Rob says:

    I’m actually planning on dumping Netflix altogether due to the price hike. I’m already an Amazon Prime user and therefore get streaming services through them. They may not have everything Netflix has available, but their catalog will increase in time as well. The $7.99 DVD plan is tempting because I watch mainly new releases which aren’t readily available to stream, but odds are I won’t watch more than 8 a month, so I’ll just hit up Redbox instead for those. Not only will it probably be cheaper in the long run, but I don’t have to deal with seeing “very long wait” anymore.

  23. Darryl Mott Jr. says:

    Keep it and cut back on something else, like your cable TV package. I went from the everything-and-in-every-language package to the lowest-level no-frills package I could get that still had my most-watched networks (losing G4 was a dealbreaker for the super-bargain package, and I’m not exaggerating or trying to kiss ass). I figured what was the point of Showtime/Starz/HBO/etc. if I had steaming movies? Hell, if I could get full episodes of Attack of the Show, X-Play, and Web Soup online, I’d cancel my cable altogether since every other show I watch is online for streaming.

  24. mercutiom says:

    I’ve been on the 2 disc plan with streaming for a couple years now, and I can’t get rid of either. Granted I knew the change was coming eventually and I’ve been without regular cable for the last few months in financial expectation of the change, I’m also one of the few who weren’t annoyed by the change.

    Here’s my one hope though, I hope that this is a preemptive strike by Netflix to help ISPs assuage the additional cost they’re claiming to incur due to the high amount of streaming during primetime hours. I hope that there is some backroom deal going on that they made to keep internet costs the same, while allowing the streaming demands to continue. I sadly doubt this though.

    More likely this is an attempt by Netflix to make more money now to help them pay for more online content to be available later. Eventually all those discs I’m getting will be unnecessary, and I can’t wait for that day to arrive. But for now, as I said, I’m keeping both services to ensure I have the viewing options my slacker lifestyle, and life long television addictions demand.

  25. @Justin A sound observation, and probably worth seeing if it pans out. Not that we can’t adjust our membership down the line, but still… it’s nice to be right. Heh.

  26. Mike E. says:

    Hi, my name is Mike and I haven’t watched Netflix Instant for about three months now. I’m taking it one day at a time.
    If you choose to give up Streaming, it may be difficult at first, but stick with it. Having any episode of “The Office” (UK or US) ,a random Herschell Gordon Lewis bloodbath, or “The Dark Crystal” (good for combating insomnia) available at from my remote control, was a comfort. But it is possible.
    And I’ve give anything to trade places with the Aussie reporter. Words can’t describe Swedish women. (But without the jolly bartender and his chicken.)

  27. Justin says:

    In my honest opinion, stay with instant. This whole process ( once again, in my opinion) is because Netflix wants out of the DVD by mail business and to focus on streaming only. This move will also free up cash that is needed to buy the rights to all those tv shows and movies. Dont dump Instant

  28. @ShannonT and @IanC – If I jettison one or the other, it’s almost certainly going to be the discs. I can also continue to get movies for free at my local library. Mostly I’m just kicking the dirt and pouting cause I hate being forced to do it. 😉

  29. Robin BUrks says:

    I went to just streaming awhile back and don’t miss the DVD’s at all. If there’s a movie I absolutely must see, I go to Redbox. And if I’m too lazy to leave the house, I rent it from Amazon Videon on Demand, instead or spend some Microsoft points on Zune on the XBox.

  30. Shannon T says:

    I completely agree with Ian C.

  31. Ian C says:

    For me, Netflix just priced themselves out of DVDs. I had had the unlimited 1 disc at a time plan for a long time even before they introduced streaming only, and while I had a full DVD queue, I usually forgot to watch the DVDs when they came in, or just forgot to send them back to get the next one (the movie I just sent back I’d had since December). I get much more enjoyment out of watching random films and British TV than I ever did attempting to slog through my DVD queue. What this price change did do was motivate me to go to streaming only and not give them that extra $2.00 per month basically out of apathy.

  32. Sarah says:

    I too am spoiled by the instant viewing. I catch up with the older tv shows that way. I’m finishing up Stargate Atlantis and am going to go back to SG-1 later. Just makes for a great marathon on the weekend. But movie selection is not as good as I’d like on instant, so I’ll probably keep both. But I’d feel alot better if that was 2 at a time, the bluray option included for no extra fee, or a couple dollars off for getting both. Even if did Hulu Plus for instant, and Netflix for dvds, not saving any money that way.

  33. Shannon T says:

    If you are considering getting rid of either plan, why not the discs? If you are like me, I rarely feel like watching the disc they send me by the time it gets here and I would rather just rent discs locally if they are unavailable instantly. With Instant, the best thing is that you have tons of nerdy TV shows at your fingertips: Doctor Who, Futurama, BSG, Arrested Development, Archer, and pretty much any Joss Whedon TV show that I can think of.

  34. Paul W says:

    Good article, but I’d wouldn’t call a 60% increase “nearly doubling,” when it’s just north of a 50% raise. Then again I split hairs over numbers for a living, so take that with a grain of salt.

  35. I saw CORVETTE SUMMER at the drive-in when I was a kid.