In a surprising reversal, Netflix says it is forgoing the split it announced less than a month ago, in which its DVD-by-mail business would have been spun off to a new venture and website called Qwikster. In a blog post this morning, Netflix
and Qwikster CEO Reed Hastings says that DVDs will now be staying at Netflix:
“It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs. This means no change: one website, one account, one password.. in other words, no Qwikster. While the July price change was necessary, we are now done with price changes.”
Obviously the question on everyone’s mind now is: why? Why go through the trouble of launching this terrible sounding new website and pissing off your customers only to change your mind before the terrible sounding new website even gets off the ground? Maybe too many customers were becoming ex-customers in the wake of the Qwikster announcement and they decided to bite the bullet now before things got any worse.
Netflix had built up a public image in recent years as a forward-thinking company. Their initial idea was brilliant, their service was superb, and their ability to see the viability of streaming film and television content early made them a major player in the entertainment industry. With all that said: what the hell is going on over at Netflix? Hastings has become convinced that DVD-by-mail is a dead-end, and it seems like the mad scramble to prepare for that reality has led him to make all kinds of poorly considered moves; first an extreme price hike (which Hastings still insists was necessary) and now this crazy boondoggle with Qwikster. Everything about the website was poorly conceived, from the name, to the weirdly casual video announcement, to the fact that they hadn’t secured the Qwikster handle on Twitter (leading customers who went looking for it to find a stoner with a potsmoking Elmo as its Twitter icon), to the bizarre double talk of Hastings’ blog post. Did he (and the rest of the company) really think that an “advantage of separate websites is simplicity for our members?” How did they not realize that the opposite was actually the truth?
What should Netflix do now? Glad you asked, no one at all! If I were sitting in charge of Netflix today, I would try to reverse this wave of bad publicity by finally installing some of the features that users have begged for for years but that the company, either in its laziness or arrogance, has never bothered to add. Each week, there should be an easy-to-find, easy-to-use list of the new titles available for DVD rental and streaming. We could also use a release calendar for upcoming titles arranged by date of availability. And master lists of every streaming title in alphabetical order would be great as well. As Hastings’ announcement this morning boasts, Netflix is adding new streaming content all the time. But how can you tell? There’s no easy way to find everything that’s been added without going to some third party website like the invaluable Instant Watcher. Just yesterday I discovered “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop,” a documentary I’ve been really looking forward to, was available on Netflix Watch Instantly. When did that happen? I don’t know; it just showed up. Netflix is an invaluable tool for movie and TV lovers, but it’s also become a bit user unfriendly. Now would be a great time to change that.
No word how the death of Qwikster will affect the one significant change to Netflix’s service that was announced with it: the addition of video game rentals. Hastings’ blog post made no mention of it. In the meantime, let’s all pour out a New Coke for Qwikster. We hardly knew ye. And ye will not be missed.