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Netflix Giving Disc the Cold Shoulder?

30 Mar, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Netflix’s quest to become a streaming juggernaut apparently is coming at the expense of discs, including offering catalog movies and TV shows the online disc rental pioneer once staked its claim on.

Since launching a streaming-only option last year and raising the monthly price to disc subscribers, Netflix has quietly begun downsizing disc acquisitions of newly released vintage movies and TV shows (notably on Blu-ray Disc), in addition to not replacing damaged current physical inventories, observers say.

In doing so, Netflix appears to be alienating the very user base steadily grown throughout the past 10 years that was indifferent to 28-day embargoes and must-have street date releases so vital to kiosk vendors.

Stephen Bowie, who writes a blog about classic TV programs, and counts himself an ardent Netflix subscriber, says the once “mighty stream” of classic disc releases available to subscribers has been reduced to a “trickle.”

Specifically, Bowie is referring to eclectic titles mainstream viewers usually avoid, yet often are sought by Netflix’s highly-educated, above-average income subscribers. As an example, Bowie cited a recent list of classic movies from the New York Times he says are nowhere to be found on Netflix.

They include Luchino Visconti’s Technicolor melodrama Senso (Criterion); Fellini’s I Clowns and the Fernando Di Leo Collection of Italian crime movies (Raro/Entertainment One); film noir classic The Prowler (VCI); remastered Roger Corman sci-fi flicks Not of This Earth and War of the Satellites (Shout! Factory); and a Rita Hayworth set (Sony Pictures) including the DVD debuts of Miss Sadie Thompson and Salome.

Bowie said the same reality faces recent DVD releases of “The Rockford Files, “The Donna Reed Show,” “Route 66,” “The Lucy Show” and “Vega$.” Seasons of the original “Hawaii Five-O,” “Murder She Wrote,” “The Outer Limits” and “Father Knows Best,” which Netflix typically carried, have vanished as well.

Bowie said “The Twilight Zone” and recent seasons of “C.S.I.” also are not available on Blu-ray, a format to which he claims Netflix has developed “a particular aversion.”

“What does infuriate me is that Netflix is abandoning DVD before it should, and that it has not been honest with its customers in this regard,” Bowie .

To be fair, Netflix has been forthcoming about its transition to digital at the expense of digital. CEO Reed Hastings in analyst calls has repeatedly stressed the company’s focus and resources on streaming. Indeed, at an investor event last December, Hastings famously said that “98% of management's attention is on streaming and only 2% is paying attention to DVD.”

Regardless, reaction from Netflix subscribers on (which management follows) was overwhelmingly negative toward the changes.

“Considering I downgraded to a one [disc] out at a time plan and started a supplementary Blockbuster account to watch a number of Blu-ray titles Netflix hasn't been buying, I would say the availability is not as good as it could be,” David wrote.

“I used to be exclusively Netflix. ... Nowadays I'm Netflix (one disc with streaming), DVDs by Mail (Comcast and Blockbuster’s joint venture), Redbox, Family Video and my local library,” Jay wrote.

“Netflix doesn't have the streaming titles to justify shifting focus over there,” wrote Joe. “They have stopped caring as much about DVDs and Blu-rays, and it really shows.”

A Netflix spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.


About the Author: Erik Gruenwedel

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