Netflix has allowed a sizable portion of their content library to expire on May 1st. A highlight of expired classics can be found at the bottom of this Slate article. More content is set to be removed later in the month as well. On the 22nd, instantwatcher states that hundreds of titles will be lost, including most, if not all, of the content from Comedy Central.
This is the part where you rush to your favorite streaming device and begin mainlining stand-up as fast as you can.
Back? Okay, good.
Losing some content isn’t the only thing going on over at Netflix though. Their A/B testing system has gone and messed with something that some users clearly find crucial to their Netflix experience: the Instant Queue.
For those who don’t use it, the Instant Queue was/is an easy to access list of movies that you’d like to watch later. The people who use this system tend to really use it, and everybody else tends to ignore it, or get scared off by the word “queue.”
If the posts on Get Satisfaction are any indication, the people who used the IQ, used it in very specific ways and took the time to order it just right. The most recent change orders “Your List” according to categorical criteria based on your preferences and tastes, or simple things like alphabetical order or date released. It should also be mentioned that some people have devices that will only access the Instant Queue. These are mostly older Blu-ray players and TVs, but some people could have the ability to stream to their device of choice completely clipped. Whether one chalks this up to the march of technology or hideous customer service is of course left to the individual.
According to Get Satisfaction, this change seems far more affective than the loss of so much content. In fact a search through the first few pages of posts brings up nothing about the recent loss of content. Perhaps this is because of the structure of the site, but I think it far more likely that there is a lesson to be learned from both of these stories and the reactions to them.
People are actually more concerned with how content is displayed than what content is available. Just look at the comments on that Get Satisfaction forum. Look how well written, reasoned and intelligent they are. Now think of any forum you’ve ever been on or the comments section of any news site you frequent. Most comments are not this grammatically correct, much less reflect the level of consideration on display in most of these comments.
It seems only a small percentage of users who take the time to seriously organize and comb through the content that’s available to them. The rest of the users want to be spoonfed content, or simply aren’t inclined to take the time to organize things in a queue. It seems quite clear that it is a vocal minority that actually uses the queue to its full potential, so despite what looks like a lot of noise against the new change most users probably won’t even notice.
And let’s take a look at the list of movies that Slate culled from those being allowed to expire. Are these movies that were attracting a huge audience? Were they drawing viewers by the droves? It seems unlikely with descriptions like, “a bleak post-apocalyptic farce in which the Earth’s population has been reduced to a handful of people, some of whom morph into inanimate objects without notice,” or “a heady, almost surrealistic vision of the brutality of combat.”
The only populist titles are classic Bond films. That doesn’t mean that I think these movies are bad, in fact most of them sound like interesting finds. James Cagney as a Coca-Cola representative in West Berlin? Okay, sorry I missed that one. Its loss isn’t really a major blow to the service though, and it’s good to see that nobody is jumping on a “Netflix is doomed” bandwagon.
This news, along with the announcement that Orange is the New Black will be premiering in July, reveal a new direction for the streaming giant, and perhaps a new direction for streaming media in general. Netflix has gone out of their way to present high quality exclusive content with big names attached. Kevin Spacey stars in House of Cards with episodes directed by David Fincher and Joel Schumacher, while Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) directs the Twin Peaks meets modern gore horror series Hemlock Grove. And of course Orange is the New Black is headed by Jenji Kohan of Weeds fame. These series mark Netflix out as more of a competitor to HBO than as a general content distributor.
We may be at the end of the days when Netflix was a haven for obscure classics and poor college kids looking for a cable replacement. This may point the direction for other streaming services as well. Rather than distributing other’s content, strong exclusive content will be the backbone of future streaming services. The days of choosing one or another may be over in the next few years. It may quickly become a game of mix and match.
Time will tell, of course, but for now there will be many upheavals and missteps. Let’s all just try to ride it out and make good choices.