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Lost in the Netflix Name Game: Vanishing Instant Queue Titles

20 Sep, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Netflix last weekend quietly began deleting titles with expired rights in subscribers' instant watch queues

The day before CEO Reed Hastings’ mea culpa heard around the world, Netflix quietly began hiding titles with expired streaming rights from subscribers’ instant watch queues.

So what’s the big deal? Previously, the Los Gatos, Calif.-based by-mail disc rental pioneer had allowed titles with streaming rights (from the content holder) that soon would expire to remain in the subs’ queue with a listed date when the particular content no longer would be available. As a result, subs could manage titles according to availability, including transferring them to their disc rental queue if available there.

Of course that much-lauded feature will soon be history when Qwikster becomes Netflix’s standalone disc rental platform with a completely separate (and non-compatible) rental queue.

In a Sept. 17 post on its blog, Netflix said it didn’t remove — but merely hid — titles from subscribers’ instant watch queue until it knew exactly when those titles again would be available to stream. It said it did this to make managing queues easier.

The blogosphere smelled a rat and howled accordingly, with critics accusing Netflix of attempting to hide the fact it was losing streaming rights to content at an increasing rate, including Sony Pictures and Disney movies, which are set to expire next February when the license deal with Starz Entertainment ends.

Frost & Sullivan analyst Dan Rayburn said Netflix’s move made it more difficult for subscribers to manage their rental queues, including keeping track of “hidden” titles that still count toward a 500-title queue limit.

“I am getting so tired of Netflix’s blog posts lately which are starting to sound like they are written by a bunch of lawyers being creative with words,” Rayburn wrote on StreamingMedia.com just hours before Hastings’ mea culpa.

Richard Greenfield, analyst with BTIG Research in New York, said Netflix in recent times had transitioned from a self-touted "pretty simple" user experience to "puzzling."

In a column Sept. 19, Troy Dreier, senior associate editor with StreamingMedia, lamented that Netflix’s blunders were quickly transitioning it as “the Palm for a new generation,” or as the headline on the cover the Sept. 20 Los Angeles Times read: "Once High-Flying Netflix is Sinking."

Another complication of the Qwikster name change? Some aspects of the name aren't controlled by Netflix, such as Twitter.com/Qwikster, which has swelled to more than 11,000 followers.

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